A Mother’s Grief, A Brother’s Memorial

Alison is the mother of Adam Fishman, who graduated from Helping Up Mission years ago and passed away more recently. Jake is Adam’s brother. They share Adam’s story, but also the story of their grief journeys, how Allison’s grief led her into writing poetry – you hear one of those poems at the very end of this episode – and also led her to a joint presentation with one of Adam’s doctors at medical humanities conferences.

You’ll hear how Jake’s journey of grief led him to ultra long distance running in his brother’s honor, which is something he’s done for the past three years and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Helping Up Mission.

Mother’s Day, like any holiday, is joyous for some and bitter or bittersweet for others. This episode goes out to all the mothers and all the family members who don’t know where their loved one is today, or who’ve lost their loved one to addiction. We hope Allison’s and Jake’s stories and experiences bring you some measure of hope and encouragement in your grief.

Please help us make a better podcast by taking our listener survey

Produced by Vic King. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.


(This transcript is auto-generated and may contain errors.)

Vic: This is a shot of hope. I’m Vic King, chaplain at helping up mission, and this episode is different. Normally we’re hearing from a graduate of helping up mission about their story of recovery and redemption, but as anyone who’s familiar with the world of addiction and recovery knows, that is not how every story ends. On my wall in my office, I’ve got photos after photos after photos of our graduates. But I’ve also got a smaller section of photos of men I’ve had the privilege of walking alongside, who have passed away, some from overdose, some of other causes. Today I’m bringing you a conversation that I had with Alison Hartman and Jake Fishman. Alison is the mother of Adam Fishman who graduated from helping up years ago and passed away more recently. Jake is Adam’s brother. They share Adam’s story, but also the story of their grief journeys, how Allison’s grief led her into writing poetry. You hear one of those poems at the very end of this episode. And also led her to a joint presentation with one of Adam’s doctors at medical humanities conferences. You’ll hear how Jake’s journey of grief led him to ultra long distance running in his brother’s honor, which is something he’s done for the past three years and raised tens of thousands of dollars for Helping Up. Mother’s Day, like any holiday, is joyous for some and bitter or bittersweet for others. This episode goes out to all the mothers and all the family members who don’t know where their loved one is today, or who’ve lost their loved one to addiction. We hope Allison’s and Jake’s stories and experiences bring you some measure of hope and encouragement in your grief.

Alison: I’m Alison Hartman And I’m the mother of adam Fishman and Adam was a graduate of helping up mission in 2013 and he died in 2017. And we’re here to tell about Adam’s story and and our story with him.

Jake: As she said I’m Jake Fishman. I’m Adam’s older brother. He was three years, three years younger than me. So I’m here to just relay his story.

Alison: Adam had a relatively normal childhood I’d say up until a certain point. I always say that adam was a challenge from day one. And he was a very willful child, but very strong personality but he was also incredibly lovable and passionate and funny and and pushed the limits. But he had a normal childhood and he liked to do all the things, little boys like to do. He was very loved. And I guess I’d say everything was normal until I. And that’s when his, there was a divorce. His father and I divorced, and that was very traumatic for both boys But I would say specially for adam. He was very sensitive kid, very tender, very vulnerable. And I’d say he always had this feeling that he wasn’t always comfortable in his own skin. Those years after the divorce were hard on him, but like for any kid, it would be hard. I remarried and a few years later and Adam started experimenting with marijuana in eighth grade. And it was a F it, I would say it became a love affair for him. It was getting high was his focus. And we did all the types of interventions that parents do at that age. Some of it was, normal experimentation, but for Adam, I think it was different than that. And it became an obsession. And from marijuana into high school went to hallucinogens. And then, and then an arrest happened, you got arrested age 17 for possession of marijuana.

And at that point, a lot of things were happening in 17. He was he was in a group of kids that were all kind of counter-culture kids and all experimenting with all this music and pod and so forth. But one thing I found right around the time of the arrest was a bottle of oxycontin. And then I knew this, we were in a serious. It was serious. And so as a family we made an intervention and some parents ended up doing. The arrest made no difference to him. It was like almost a badge of honor. And so he ended up we ended up sending him to a wilderness program. And he was away for about eight weeks. And, I’d basically we had a lot of hope at that, point, but from then on it was a spiral downhill. And from oxycontin came heroin And so from age about 18, 19 till his death in 25 he was a heroin addict Many stories are like this, rehab after rehab, intervention after intervention. And that came a point I’d say when I w when Adam was like maybe 19, 20 that, I started attending Nora naan. And I knew that I I needed help in how to handle myself with this what felt like I always use this analogy of a runaway train that when Adam started using drugs I felt like I hopped on this runaway train with him and tried to find the brakes and see what I could do to fix this and this horrible thing.

And then I realized eventually that I had to get off this train. There was no way I could stop. And so I got off the train and but then I kept watching the train go by and that was almost as painful as being on the train. and then I finally realized I had to walk away. And I think and working my own 12 step program helped me be able to walk away, not walk away with get out of my life, but walk away with I love you. And I want you to get well but I can’t participate in this anymore until you’re in recovery. And so Adam had some years between 20 and his death that he was homeless. And, the first, time he was really homeless that’s when he entered the mission. And he did that other rehabs We had to force it but this was his own choice. He entered on his own and we felt that he was really ready. Readiness is a big thing. so we thought maybe he had hit his bottom and he was really ready. Being on the street was no fun. And we weren’t enabling him, the way we had in the past.

And so he entered the mission and he actually said he stayed for a whole year. And to me it was just the biggest sign of hope. And what happened when at graduation they show the picture of the person when they entered the program. And then when they leave. And the transformation was amazing. And I felt like. Adam came home, it was like the Adam, we all knew and loved. And sadly it didn’t stick. And, Adam really when he left the program he really didn’t continue to work on his recovery. And he eventually had a period of doing better but then ended up spiraling really down the last two years of his life. And we made another had to make another separation from him. Of those last cup last year and a half And we’ve just said yeah we can’t I’ll go down with a sinking ship. And we love you we want you to be part of our family but until you’re in active recovery, we can’t be around.

And so he was on the street for awhile and for that year and finally he ended up at university , Maryland in the ER with a drug induced psychosis. And he was put on psych unit and he was there the last two weeks of his life. And, he was taken care of during those two weeks by a very compassionate doctor who facilitated a reconnection with me and Adam, his father and Adam, and jake and Adam. And He was good. They had stabilized him. He had been sober for two weeks and he was like Adam. And my final conversation with him was I didn’t know it was my final conversation, but he is discharged plan from the hospital Was to go back to helping up mission. And he had actually called the mission, arrange the admission and all that. And, he left On a Friday, March 10th. I spoke with him Thursday, March 9th. We had a beautiful conversation on the phone. He said he was ready for recovery. He said he knew he was loved by all of us And he wanting help people. He said, I want to help people like you do mom.

And and so he said, I’ll call you when I’m I get to the mission. And so we waited all Friday, no call Saturday no call. If Saturday afternoon, about four o’clock on March 11th I got a call from the police and they said my son was dead And um, um, It’s a funny thing it’s I wasn’t really surprised because I had prepared myself for this firm for many years, but it was of course a devastating shock I don’t think any parent is ever ready for this And so he never made it to the mission. He, and instead was picked up by his also heroin addicted girlfriend and was went to his drug dealers house And got high and died It was a fentanyl overdose

And what was interesting and very shocking to find out several days after he died, his previous girlfriend, not the current one but the previous girlfriend who was actually, Had a more positive influence not a drug addict on his life told us that he had been I always wondered what had happened to Adam. what how did he become a heroin addict? there is no history of addiction in the family On side of the family, no substance abuse disorders but she revealed that he had been sexually abused When he was like 11 and 12 and so forth And I think that played a big role in his downward spiral And I think it was the missing piece of the puzzle And I found out afterwards that he had. He had started to deal with this in his own counseling And certainly at the mission was traumas discussed and dealt with But I do think this I later my own reading had found out that, That such a percentage of addicts have a history of physical And sexual trauma So

Jake: so my timeline with Adam story is always hard to keep track because there’s Like a ping pong ball. It’s just so many back and forth periods of Drug use sobriety, rehabs homelessness. When I think about my childhood and my relationship to Adam, when I was, when we were younger To be honest, I have very few explicit memories, Explicit memories of it. My, my mom and dad both told me that we were very close growing up. I remember playing with them and I remember being at the beach, like going to the family vacations with him.

I sorta remember when it started. He was 12, 13. I would have been around 17. I remember catching him smoking weed and the basement stairwell outside here with his friends. And I remember actually being at a group of my friend’s house at a friend’s house with some of my friends who, one of them had a younger brother who’s Adam’s age. And Adam is over with his group of friends there. And I remember all my friends smell smoking weed with my brother. And that was my first really those first time I, I saw him using drugs and It progressed from there. I remember when I was in college hearing about him my mom finding the Oxycontin and, It was pretty clear that he was no longer the person that he once was. And he like, I became a, he was no longer my brother, really, at that point, I just didn’t, I didn’t know who he was anymore.

We lost common interests. Our conversation, we had nothing to talk about really anymore there was another impact was just as all it was, he became like All encompassing with my family Like he was all that my mom and dad really could focus on. Myself included to an extent, I think, it’s hard enough being a sibling to a brother or a sibling to an addict, but I think it’s a whole other level being the parent. it didn’t really seem to matter what was going on in my life. Positive or negative there, because understandably so there was a crisis that needed to be dealt with. I was never in crisis. Adam was , his descent took the priority and I can’t really. fault My parents for that. That’s just how, it’s just how it is when you have a kid. I can imagine. He had a lot of, but he had a lot of ups and downs as my mom mentioned. And, during the periods, when he was sober and, especially after he got out of the mission, we really did reconnect. And we’re in touch, fairly regularly. I think we had a really good, I think we had a really good relationship at that point. I saw him when I was in town. we’d have dinners with, the three of us or with my dad. And it was really good. I remember when it started taking a downward spiral was And again my timeline might be off, but sometime around the murder, after the murder of Freddie gray and the unrest in Baltimore and the protests I know, I recall he got beat up or so, he says he got. W I never want to doubt his, his word, but with an attitude, you never know. He says he got beat up and mugged.

And that’s when I remember just things changed. He, became homeless shortly thereafter at one point he attempted suicide and jumped off a building and was in shock trauma after that. That was really hard at that point. When I found out about that I was with my in-laws and my wife for the holidays. That. Obviously dominated that holiday. And, but then, he checked himself into university of Maryland I was in Boston, in, in law school at that point. And. We like, like my mom mentioned, yeah, he had a great doctor, great nurses and staff there in general, but Reconnected my last conversation with him, we talked a couple of times on the phone during the two weeks that he was there. We also actually still have a couple of voicemails saved on my phone.

And during that time the, I think the last time I talked to him was probably Wednesday or Thursday before he died. Just over Facebook messenger. I was on campus and just check in and just, I don’t remember exactly what we talked about. but was very Basic and just checking in. He was looking forward to getting out. He, I knew he was planning on going back to the mission the worst times of your life, you don’t really. realize it’s gonna, it’s going to lead up to that or it’s going to happen until it happens. It was just normal Saturday. And I had just gotten back to my apartment in Boston and got a call from my mom and, Yeah, just find out he, he was dead. And I was of on a plane, like four hours after that back home.

I always describe it as a shock, but not a surprise. I think my mom and and my dad, we were all preparing for his death for probably five plus years before it happened. Like it was not of course not hoping for it, but just knowing that it was very likely to have. And actually, I’d take that back… almost at points. I did hope for it because was so tortured and putting us through so much torture that, I, that sounds cold. And, but it’s just, if he was going to be in such a miserable, awful painful place and dragging everybody else down with. Then, like the only P like the only peace can find I imagine is death. I think my mom my wife, both found my my lack of normal grieving, surprising, but I think that. Like my brother died many years before he actually died. So I think I was, I think I was already had already accepted that Not that made us that easy, but yeah

Alison: After Adam died it was a Saturday and. The funeral was not until the following Sunday. So eight days later. And I had a conversation when Adam was in the hospital. I had connected to Adam’s doctor and I could tell he would had really. Connected to Adam and had bonded without them. And so he called me to get a full history on Adam I could tell this doctor was not like any other doctor I had been in touch with throughout all the years of Adam’s addiction. He really, he stayed on the phone with me for almost an hour. Now, any other doctor when Adam was in hospital, like when he was in shock trauma or other, rehabs and people I didn’t really want to hear about who Adam was as a person. And so this doctor Dr. Rosenberg he really cared about Adam and he’s the one who facilitated our conversations without him in the hospital.

And so when Adam died one of the first things I did is I called Dr. Rosenberg And I told him Adam died and he, one of the last things that he had told me on the phone, Dr. Rosenberg is, he said, a plan. He’s going back to the mission. But I just want to tell you that Adam is a great risk of death. And not that was a news flash for me, but to hear it from a doctor so he prepared me in a way. And so I met at he actually, I invited him to the funeral and he came to the funeral and then he came to Shiva and that we’re Jewish and Shiva is a a period of mourning, period of mourning where people gather and there’s a short service and so forth and when people speak and and share their experiences of Adam. And he spoke and shared just a beautiful he wrote something, several pages and he it about Adam. And I just felt like this man knew my son.

And when he left that night he said, I’m here for you if you need me. And I took him up on it and I, he, we, I call him my grief mentor and he mentored me through my grief now, not in a professional way, yeah. We got together maybe once or twice a month. And we sat and we talked and we talked and cried and cried. And I, we developed a a very unique relationship that was very healing and meaningful. And from that about a year and a half in that journey, We wrote something together it’s called journeys end, journeys begin. And it’s actually a performance piece. It’s a role play, between doctor and mother, doctor and patient. I actually play Adam in some of it and, um, we’ve actually at several Medical humanities conferences about grief and addiction and how to cope with death that especially the death of a child and that pro creative process relationship.

And sharing it with others has created kind of a meaning out of Adam’s death. I think the fact that, Giving to others, helping others is a way of making something very tragic very meaningful. And so that’s been a project of ours. It was stopped. We had to suspend it during COVID, but we’re back doing it again. And so that’s been a real gift from Adam’s death and believe it or not, there have been gifts, not that as Jake said, not that I would ever want or hope for his death, but, there’s been of redeeming things from it.

Jake: I’m a runner I’m a long distance runner and I guess 20. 20 2020 would have been the first year that that I started doing this I had always leading up to this I’d always I’d run on a couple of marathons and I’d always wanted to get into the Ultra running scene which is just completing a distance anything longer than a marathon typically the first the first notch in that realm is 50 kilometers or 31 miles and change and so leading up to the anniversary of Adam’s death in 2020 would have been his three-year anniversary He died on March 11th And so leading up to that I thought about I was thinking a lot about Adam of course Cause I usually think about him every day at least a little bit but especially around that time more And I thought about combining some of my goals with something that could be done to honor Adam and remember him.

So that’s when I thought about running his age in in miles which at that time he would have been 29 and then of course I thought I want to at least get 31 miles maybe I’ll just make it a little more of a challenge and so I paired doing that around his birthday which is he died two weeks to the day prior to his birthday March 25th I paired that with a fundraiser for helping up mission and running for me running 33 miles for what would have been out of his 29th birthday.

And I raised $10,000 and a little more but I think it was a little more than $10,000 for the mission which was Blew me away was complete My no my goal was 20 It was 2,900 because rounding out with his age And after I put out the fundraiser the first initially I think I hit that goal in less than 24 hours So I doubled it I hit that goal and probably another 48 hours So then it just kept going which w yeah It was pretty awesome so I successfully completed that run last year I did it again on his birthday last year a friend of mine started a fundraiser for him raised I think just under $4,000 It was much more last minute.

This year I plan to do it again I plan to do 40 miles this year. No particular reason aside from my like to suffer. But but again it’ll be in his honor. I’ll do some sort of fundraiser for it. and From what I’ve witnessed from what I I’ve I have several friends who are in long-term recovery and obviously I have the experience of being Adam’s brother it’s very running That kind of distance is very mental it’s probably like 95% mental and 5% physical and I preface all of this by saying I’m not the most experienced ultra marathon are far but I I do know that you get to a certain point probably a lot earlier than you think that your your body everything every muscle in your body is telling you like you just stop and walk Like it’s easier to stop and or feel better to stop if you want to If you want to achieve the goal that you’ve set for yourself, you you have to will your mind to overcome what your body’s telling you to do and I can only imagine that from the point of from the mindset of an addict it’d be easier to to start using again that overall has probably something to do with that overlap.

Alison: In terms of talking to other parents or loved ones of addicts, I have gone back periodically to my NAR on group because they asked me to speak to share my, my story and what think. find very helpful and useful for me and for them is that, when I was listening, oh, when Adam was alive and I went to Nar-Anon and a parent would come in and talk about that their addict had like, I don’t know if I want to hear that, it’s I don’t, I don’t know if this is but afterwards it w after yeah, I gave it a I listened, wow, this is really That this person can speak as a parent and had survived this and actually doing okay. And so now was my opportunity to give. in that I do go back periodically and I even start my talk by saying, I’m here to tell you that you can have a full life even after your addict has died, and I think that’s really helpful for people to hear.

And then. then, the story and then it’s a story of resilience really, as a parent, and it’s also story. The resilience comes for me has come from making meaning out of this that isn’t just Adam, hasn’t just become a statistic or, but that he’s, He was a full person. his own full life. And actually the last thing he said to me, which is mom, I know what I want to do with my life, would is always confused about what he wanted to do, of course, because he was always using, but he, he said, I want to help people like you do. And and I really feel like Adam is fulfilling his purpose. In a way through me, he’s not here to do it, but I think through my love of him, and connecting to that he can actually continue to do what he was meant to do on the serve.

And so when I go to NAR Anon and speak, that’s one way these presentations, but also, now the current project is, the mission is wanted an acupuncture program there. And as an acupuncturist actually they’re giving acupuncture free acupuncture to the men in recovery. And so that is just launched this past fall. And and that actually, it was a. Someone at the mission who I am hearing the story about Adam said, I think we should name this project, the Adam project. So it’s, and what’s interesting is it takes place in the library at the mission, which is where Adam had his work. His surface work at the mission was in the library.

I realized that my life was Getting as almost as bad as Adams I was losing sleep I was losing weight I was and I had a lot of the same symptoms Adam had as an addict and I realized I was going down And you want to I guess I would say something like to hold a balance between hope and Hope and self care you got to take care of yourself and you don’t want to be hopeless I never lost hope I felt hopeless at times, but I always maintain this hope that Oh, Adam could go well but never forget to take care of yourself admits this, and that you can love someone so deeply and at the same time yourself at the same time

Jake: You’re no used to anybody if not in order

Alison: On the anniversary of Adam’s death March 11th I want to do something useful because it’s a sad very sad day And so I go to the next. and I speak to the men there and I want to bring hope there I don’t want to just be oh my son died and addictions horrible disease and I don’t want it That’s not my purpose but to talk about the detachment that was necessary that I had to go through but it was a detachment with love Whenever I had to separate from Adam I said okay, Adam I love you I love you so much but Until you’re in your own recovery I can’t help you It was a no, rejecting kind of detachment It was actually a very inclusive detachment It’s I just can’t be here now while you’re destroying yourself but I love you.

And I know you can I know you’ve done it before You can do it again and So I think That’s my message Yeah The hard part is at the, as a parent, you, as a parent, you’re supposed to always, especially a mother you’re supposed to help your child, and so to distance from them is very counter-intuitive. Case in point was when Adam left the hospital on March 11th or March 10th, actually. And his father and I were like, deciding, should we pick out them up and actually take them to the mission? It’s just cross town, but, and we were told he was being given bus fare or whatever to get there. And we went back and forth and we. You know what we’ve done that so many times we took them from rehab to this or that program. And we thought he’s, he’s 25. He’s made this decision to go back. Even if we actually hand delivered him, as soon as we turned around, he could have, he could leave. So we realized, it’s still something I think about, is, should we have taken him? Would he still be alive? But, the, at this point it was an Adam’s hands and I don’t think we could have ever prevented what happened.

Jake: So I wasn’t there when this poem was found out. My mom and dad cleared out Adam’s apartment at his last stint of homelessness before his death, he was in the wind and so they went to clear out his apartment and they found, I think it was a journal. And bunch of his writings and thoughts and et cetera. And they found one of them was this poem that they kept. So it goes:

it’s my perfect kind of day in so many ways the sun is hot, but the breeze is cool. As I sit in the shade of this magnificent old Magnolia tree, I feel at peace natural. Artificial powder. Happiness can never be this pure. There’s a reason that I’m here at this moment with the gorgeous bay in front flowing. So eloquently seeming almost synchronized with nature sounds. The world is such a beautiful, refreshing thing. Renewing my soul, showing me the old me I’ve lost with I’ve lost touch with so much. I loved and cared deeply about it’s been too long. I remember just a few days ago, trying to feel these feelings I used to have and being completely unable to, I know if I keep going without falling down again, the possibilities are endless so much yet to be experienced so much to see.

So I actually have the last line of that tattooed on Memorial in a whole Memorial piece on my ribs. So I carried that around with me every day.

Alison: so for a couple of years after Adam died I just spontaneously started writing poetry about Adam, about his death and grief. And so I wrote this poem called The Club.

We meet in a special hall, this club

that no one wants to join

We all have heard

this is not the proper order of things,

this is not supposed to happen

Scanning the room

I see faces whose eyes

share my somber gaze


Huddled in a corner,

a group whose common loss

occurred at birth,

their hopes hardly given time

to be imagined

They bury all things unrealized


A small cluster meet in a circle

sharing desperate stories

of sudden accidents,

colliding cars,

bodies strewn across the road,

sirens and stretchers and blood

Licenses recently obtained

go up in flames

dreams half-formed

abruptly cut short


Then those join with me

who watched disease

Sometimes over months or years,

they witnessed in slow motion

the torturous simmer of demise

Some stayed involved,

others walked away,

all hearts were broken


I step way back.

The walls dissolve.

I find myself in a field,

expansive and boundless.

Everyone dances in their tears.

Memories turn into poems.

Hands plead for answers,

draw pictures in the sky.

Photos in black and white

awaken color.

Layers of sorrow

weave into music,

as myriad stories

merge into a single note

chanted without end


And by some mystery

a whispering descends:

Grief is the gift bestowed by the gods

Cloaked in darkness and hidden in shadows.

It waits for those who are ready for truth,

whose fears have been burned in the fire of pain

and obstacles faced in the valley of despair.


And mined beneath the unimaginable loss

is Love:




“When the whole world’s falling apart, what do you do?” – Renee’s Story

Listen as Renee shares her story of healing and recovery from childhood abuse, codependency, and recovery from addiction to alcohol.

Please help us make a better podcast by taking our listener survey

Produced by Vic King. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.


Vic: From Helping Up Mission, this is A Shot of Hope. I’m Vic King, chaplain at Helping Up and your host on this podcast.

As children, many of us were great observers, but terrible interpreters. We picked up on a lot, maybe more than our parents thought, but we didn’t know what to make of it. And often we concluded that trauma like divorce or abuse or neglect or death was our fault. For some of us like Renee, those false verdicts then trapped us in tunnels of shame and fear. Drugs and alcohol seem to offer a way out, but only ensnare us further. Today though, Renee knows the way out.

I asked her what she would say to her childhood self, to the little Renee who was growing up amid so much evil and abuse. And she told me, I would say, everything in life that happens to you is not your fault. You are beautiful, and God does love you.

For Renee, God’s love became a solid foundation from which she could be boldly honest about her past trauma and present struggles, while still honoring the good that was there as well. It’s what enables her to look at her life and see every single thing as a lesson or a blessing. 📍 Those are her words; you’ll hear them later in this podcast. For someone who’s been through what Renee’s been through, that’s no trite cliche, that’s hard won wisdom.

Renee: Okay. My name is Renee Martin. I am 42 years old. I have three biological children and two bonus children. And our age ranges are 26 to seven. So it’s wonderful.

I grew up in Baltimore city. My father was an addict who passed when I was about eight years old. So my mom was a single mother who was very depressed. That was her 14 year old boyfriend who she happened to marry by home and who passed. So a lot of her depression was in my story because she wasn’t available spiritually, mentally, emotionally. She was gone, which gave me one, freedom to do things I shouldn’t be doing and two, expose me to things that probably shouldn’t have been exposed to at 3, 4, 5, 6.

I was in a daycare that they now named the hell house and it was horrific. And I was there from the time I was six weeks until seven years old. I was the longest running child in that place. And a lot of molestation, a lot of verbal abuse, burning with cigarettes. Child labor, like picking greens, cleaning floors, rubbing feet, mopping walls. Conversations about people being murdered by adults around you. Just things that no child should ever hear.

So from there, it put in me a feeling of what happens here, stays here, there. And then when I go home, the same thing, what happened here, stays there. So I was taught to keep secrets early. I was taught to bottle early, up whatever you feel. My mother was a heavy drinker and I became her bartender. I was her codependent enabler. I wanted to keep everyone around me happy because I was in so much chaos as a child.

I think I was probably 11. My mother was to pick me up from somewhere. I don’t know what happened, but she never showed up. I decided to walk and then I was raped. So I just went into full blown pre-teen rebellion, running away, being with boys who were drug dealers, getting in stolen cars, doing everything that you should not do and still never using, because I knew my father used and watching him nod out and all that. I thought he was sleepy, but found out later it was heroin. So I just decided that I would never use, and I would never drink. That was just not going to happen because I watched my mother drink.

But I definitely turned to men and trying to get relationships. And first it started because I was athletic. I played basketball. So I thought as a way to get attention and it was never sexual in the beginning, it was more just for attention. I just wanted someone to be nice to me. I just wanted somebody to do something for me and boys buy me things and I’d be like, oh, thank you. Not realizing at some point they might want something back for that.

I was overly developed because I was so mature and all my experiences, I knew way too much. I would be involved in fights consistently at school, but had perfect grades. So it was like, people would always say, you’re so smart. What’s wrong with you. But I had to keep the secret. So I didn’t know how to navigate, like what I was feeling, because I was never allowed to say how I felt.

Being a runaway a lot, I saw people get shot in front of me multiple times, running from shootings, and it’s in the nineties. Murder was like a common thing. And one of my best friends from childhood was murdered and it kinda changed me. And then at 15 I got pregnant.

God saved me because not only was I pregnant, but my child was sickly. And by her being sickly, I had no choice, but to stay home. Up until she was like five she spent 90% of her days in the hospital. So she had six surgeries. She died twice.

So what I had to do was stay at the hospital with her. They had the parents shower, with a parent bed. And that’s what I did. I went to school from the hospital, left the school, I would do hair on the side for extra money.

I was in band marching band. I did that. I did cheerleading. I did whatever. And then I would go do hair, leave there, go back to the hospital, do homework till the middle of the night, wake up in the morning, take a shower, go back to school. And that was my routine most of my 10th and 11th grade. But that’s how I functioned.

We lived at the hospital and when she came out, she had a colostomy bag, so that had to be cared for a certain way. They care wasn’t covered. So I had to come up with what I was going to do. So what did I do? I hustled. I knew ways to get money from things I shouldn’t do. And I had friends. And one of my friends in particular made sure I was always okay with my daughter.

He, oh my God. He just was like a phenomenal friend. And I did hair. I sold candy at school. I would clean people houses and not only did I do hair, but I would catch the bus to your house and do your hair because I didn’t have anywhere to do it. So then I would charge you extra because I had to come to you. So I just learned that if I hustled, I can get it done.

My daughter’s father, we were in a relationship on and off. His family is phenomenal. His mom helped a lot with my daughter, his family babysat her a lot. My family babysat her a lot for me. Because of my issues, I didn’t trust her with anyone. I wouldn’t let anyone watch her. So as she got older, she was very verbal because I couldn’t hold her. So I talked to her constantly for two years. So she was two years old, letters, numbers, speaking in full sentences. And people laugh because she had her third birthday and they were like, are you sure. Because she would have a full conversation with you and you wouldn’t believe it. And I always say she was my miracle.

And then I got pregnant on my senior year with my son, my oldest son. And I was like, I failed. Because at the time I was working for the federal government on a student program, and it was for the summer and they asked me to stay. And the only thing I had to do was stay, and they would help me with school. I was enrolled in college. I was together, but then I got pregnant. So having my son, I would have had to take the leave to have the baby, which meant I couldn’t do the program. So instead of me saying, let me figure it out and communicate. I decided to just drop it. And I had my son and I ended up eventually getting married to their dad, and it didn’t work out well, but in the meantime, I ended up getting a good federal government job back the same place and I was doing well. But the pressure of my position I was in was so great. I never still learned how to be a human and communicate feelings.

And going through my separation, leading to a divorce, I was extremely overweight. I was 350, 60 pounds at one point. I was eating my feelings and decided it would be a great idea to have a weight loss surgery- not get therapy, but to have weight loss surgery. So in having weight loss surgery, I stopped eating and had a glass of wine. And the glass of wine felt like a bottle of alcohol, but now I was back attractive. I was back single. So I felt oh, this is how I’ll make money. I was actually doing security for a nightclub. I was a bartender. I was working at night and then my government job during the day. And at one point during my separation, I was living in my car because I was so frustrated with my situation, I just moved in my car.

And I lived that fast paced every day, working literally three jobs for three years. And when I blinked and my relationship was done. And I was doing these inappropriate parties participating in cooking for, I had a catering business and my job was if you had a party that was very adult-ish, Sodom and Gomorrah -ish, I would be your caterer because I didn’t tell. And I kept the secret because I was good at it. It was famous people, politicians, all that there. And I catered and I just kept my eyes and my head down, but I was paid well to serve people alcohol, and to keep secrets and find girls to help go to the parties, to work the parties with me, to make money.

And then I realized I had a gift for all these girls need babysitters. All of us can pool our money together and we can come up with a way. Okay, so if you need money and you could be the babysitter this week, and then you can be the babysitter that week, but whatever we make, we’ll all share it. So in my mind, I’m thinking I’m helping them, but then I’m looking back thinking that wasn’t helping them.

Some of the things they had to endure and go through was not helpful. I felt like I was making it safe for their kids because all of our kids were together. And for me being my situation it was a trusted person with all of our kids. We didn’t leave our kids with… this person had an aunt that was on drugs, so she didn’t want to leave him with her. And this person had a husband who was doing wrong… but at least they’re all together at my house and they’re all cared for or at someone else’s house.

And then I realized my drinking became more important than anything because as I started feeling, I was so numb. And as people around me started passing away, I never dealt and I just kept, I was like 30 something and I just was like drinking and partying and drinking and partying to the point I barely remember my thirties. Cause I never got to do it at 15. I never got to be a child. I never got to go to college and party. I never did that.

So 30 hit and I got cute and skinny and it was like free. I wasn’t in a relationship for the first time since 14. So I felt this is when you party. And then someone said, there’s something called happy hour and you get all you can drink for $20. What a concept. And I woke up in the most strange places, like my car, the bathroom of the bar, all kinds of stuff, but ultimately that’s how my alcoholism took off.

I lost my job, my great government job with benefits, making lots of money. I lost it. And when I was there, I was pregnant by then, I had met my son’s father now, and I was pregnant with my son. And part of that, once again, God slowed me down because up until then I was drinking and I still didn’t acknowledge that I was an alcoholic to me. I was like, I’m living my life. I’m partying. This is what I have to do. I would go to work, come home, have a drink till the next day, because I hated going to work good money, but I hated it. I loved my friends there, but I hated it.

So once I met my son’s father and at that point, they told me I could never get pregnant. I couldn’t have children, my 2% chance of getting pregnant. I got pregnant and I was like, dang, oh man, what am I doing? So in that I had to stop drinking. I knew I could not drink and be pregnant. So when I stopped, I started having like issues and dreams and feelings and things start happening in my mind.

And I start realizing, oh my God, you are an alcoholic. It wasn’t until I had got pregnant and had to stop that I realized how much I was using it and needing it. And I think I was like five months pregnant and I was like, I’m gonna have a drink. I was so sick, mentally, physically with myself.

I don’t think I got out of bed for two weeks because I said, how could I do that to my baby? And then the thing that I was mad at my parents for being, an alcoholic and the addict, I became. And it hit me. And I just went into a depression during my pregnancy and it lasted up until I got here. Part of it was, after I had my son, I was breastfeeding because I said, if I breastfeed, I still can’t drink. So I kept trying to think of things to do so I wouldn’t drink. So I wasn’t able to breastfeed anymore. So I started back drinking. So I started being late. I started not being accountable. I stopped showing up. I had new management who happened to look at my file and say, oh my God, no wonder.

Okay, so what’s the plan? So my answer was what Renee always does. I resigned. Like y’all ain’t gonna fire me, I’m going to resign. I have 15 years. I get a pension in retirement. I’m invested. It’s okay. I’ll figure it out.

Not realizing, you never went to college. So the amount of money that these people were paying you, it’s very hard to come by. And it was a slap in the face and it was for me, I was like I did this and I did this and I was at the white house and I did. And then I got more depressed, and I drank more, because then I started feeling the weight of what I did, wow.

And I drank and drank more. And got more depressed. Then my car got repossessed. My son’s father is phenomenal because I don’t know how he tolerated me. I started becoming an angry drinker, which I never used to be. Before, I was a numbing drinker. So I would drink and black out. But then I became the angry drinker. I would get drunk and say things and do things, leaving in the middle of the night, sneak alcohol. And then I realized that I was making him my codependent. Covering for me. What’s wrong with her? She’s sick. Oh, she don’t feel good. Or him basically taking care of our son by himself.

My oldest two children were so frustrated, they literally moved to Vegas. My oldest son, he has ADHD. He has issues with depression. And one day he said at the top of the stairs and said, mommy, I can’t watch you like this. He got on a plane to go visit his father in Vegas and never came back. Because I wasn’t that person when I raised him. So for him, he was like, I don’t know who you are. I’m not feeling it.

My daughter got so angry. She was living with us. She punched holes in walls and left. And next thing, she moved to Vegas. It was hard and I more guilt and I kept drinking more and it was like, I would stop and I would join the church.

And the thought was when I joined the church, I’m going to work for the church because that will make me stop. And I did, but I realized I wasn’t drinking, but I wasn’t fixing anything. I wasn’t going to therapy. I wasn’t going to meetings, I was doing nothing but working for the church. And then as soon as things got hard at the church, what do I do? Run and drink.

And they were dependent on me for so much. I was the head of Christian education. I was the right hand to the pastor. I was responsible for finances and I just turned over my bank card. I was like, I can’t do this. And I’m done. And I felt horrible. So I drank more.

I had another good paying job and the same. It’s the same process. Me drinking me, not doing what I’m supposed to do. And they found out I was drinking. They smelled it on me one day. They let me go. And then told me that I had to get help and I went, I got help. And then I came back and I was good for awhile. I did outpatient, but once work got hard, I got a promotion and everything, and then work got hard and then I drank again, and then they let me go.

And oddly enough, the day they let me go, they said that I smelled like alcohol and I was drinking. And that day I wasn’t. So I was angry. I was like, no, not this time, because this time I’m actually not drinking, but I had put this cream on my body. And I was because I was stopping drinking, like my skin was peeling and I was having, because I didn’t detox.

I’m trying to do all this holistic stuff. I didn’t realize these creams and stuff. Pour out your insides out your skin. So even though I wasn’t drinking, the smell was horrific, and I’m sitting at my desk and people are walking past and I was exhausted, feeling icky. So they assumed that I was drunk and I wasn’t.

And then they went and made me go take a test. I took the test, passed, and never went back. Why? It was good money, good jobs still once again, I don’t know how to confine my feelings. I didn’t want to go back and be embarrassed. So then I drank. What was the point? I stopped drinking and they accused me of drinking anyway. So I might as well drink.

Bad answer, but that’s how I felt. And I drank more. And I think it just got to a point where my volume of alcohol was so high that I would go on job interviews, and I would leave the job interview, did a great job, get the job, but be so drunk. Cause I would leave there and get a drink and be driving drunk to the point I got to my house and I passed out in the street and my family had to carry me in the house.

I didn’t call for the follow-up, so I didn’t get the job anyway. So I just started realizing a pattern of every celebration and every sadness was a drink. And at that point, my body was so stuck and I was so depressed. I stayed in my room completely and I wouldn’t come out, and I would stop drinking because I ran out of money and I would detox myself. But then after two weeks of being sick, I would just go drink. Cause I couldn’t do it. And then I would do that repeatedly for six months. But I was, in my mind, in a better position. And I was doing well.

And then COVID hit.

And I started in February, March came, they shut the building down. My job was to train people in person. My thought was, if I take this job, I’ll be sober because I would not drink and stand in front of people and then have to speak because then they’ll smell it. COVID hit. They shut the building down.

I had to go home. I had to work from home. I was the last one hired. So they said because of COVID, you spent so much time home. We haven’t really got a chance to evaluate you. We’re going to extend your probation another three months. What, how hard it was for me to get through the six months people, without drinking?

So they extended my probation another three months. And during that time I was still not drinking. I was still going to work every day. Then they said we’re going to split you 20 hours with this department, 20 hours with us. And that way we can keep you. Okay. So then the building opened back up, people around us were getting COVID, they shut it back down. They sent me back home and I was like, I cannot work from home. I’m isolated. And I’m a drinker.

Lunchtime would come, I would run and go get a drink. So I can not do this. Eventually they said, you’ll be off your probation tomorrow. So we’re just going to let you go. And I was like, what? So I didn’t drink. I crashed. I was like, I’m done. And it was COVID and I was home and I was homeschooling and I never realized my son’s teachers were awesome because he now he’s six, and I didn’t realize the amount of stress it is to teach a child. Oh my God.

So then I started drinking again, and I was frustrated because I said, every time I think I’m doing the right thing, which is not drinking, I end up losing anyway. So I might as well drink and not remember it or be blacked out. And then I started back drinking again. I drank heavily, it was like October of 2020 through about January. And I slowed down a bit, but I’m still doing this on and off in house detox that does not work. First my brother, he showed up at my door. And when he saw me, he said, you need to check yourself into a hospital, thinking it was my mental illness.

And I said, no, I’m okay. And he was like, do you have, COVID what’s wrong? You just look sick. And then my pastor showed up to my house. What is going on? You’re drinking. You need to get help. My sister showed up to my house. You’re drinking. You need to get it together. One of my church members and her husband showed up to my house and he’s in recovery. And he said, you need to get help. We here. Go get help. My son’s father consistently said it everyday, at least 50 times a day. And they start looking for places for me to go. I said, I’ll go wherever. I’m just done. I just quit in my mind. Like I will just lay here and die because it’s so exhausting to have to drink. So let me go get my last drink.

And I had bottles hidden so much all over the house at any given moment. And I drank and drank so much that my son, I’m supposed to be homeschooling him and he’s home. And I blacked out. I don’t remember what happened, but next thing I know, I was in the ambulance and that’s where I woke up. And I remember hearing a paramedic say, your son saved your life. And I was like, my six year old, apparently called 9 1 1 and had the ambulance come get me from one phone. And the other phone, he was calling his father and saying, something’s not right with mommy. This is not normal.

So that’s scary for him to recognize that I normally drink and pass out, but this pass out is worse than the normal pass out. So when I got back to the house, my sister, my pastor were on the phone with my fiance and they were talking. And my sister said, I found a place it’s called Helping Up Mission. And this girl said it’s a good place.

And she said, they have a spiritual program and you love the Lord a lot. So this is a good place. So I think you’re really get help. But we called and they said, you have to go to Bayview. And I went upstairs in my room and I looked at it and I was so disgusted at the smell, and the thought that I had laid in the same spot in that bed for so many months that I saw the dip of my body print.

And I just got on my knees in that spot and I prayed to God. I was like, please let this help me. I’m done. And when I went to Bayview and when they came back, I was fully dressed and ready to go. I looked crazy, nothing matched insane, but they were like, oh, she’s ready to go. So I’m like, oh my gosh, she really got ready.

And when I got to Bayview and I thought I was waiting all that time I went outside. I was on my cell phone because it was so many people, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my mask off. So I went outside to use the cell phone.

Next thing you know, I woke up, I was on the ground. I said, did I black out? Did I have a drink? What happened?  I look up, the side of my face is bloody, my hair stuck to my face. I have scars along with my face. I was like, where’s my phone? My phone’s gone. And I was like, dang, my cash is gone. Come and find out, I was attacked, assaulted and robbed and did not even know it. So then I was in a moment and I just prayed to God. I was like, okay, for normal me, this is the moment where I would leave and go have a drink. This is the moment where I would turn and run.

I’m going to go in here and I’m going to sit down and I sat there another two or three hours, bloody head and all, praying and praying. And then when the lady called me, she saw my face and she said, what happened? I said, I’m here to detox.

It was like in that moment, I really. God needed that to happen, because it’s been thousands of times that I snuck out my house at literally 1:30 in the morning to make it to the bar before they close at two to sneak in the dark in the most horrible neighborhood of Baltimore city, walking past some bad things in alleys, because I didn’t want anyone to see me, to go grab a drink.

And this time I was getting sober, where I was supposed to be, and assaulted. So I was like, okay, you have to persevere. You can’t keep running from this. And as I was there at Bayview, one of the men at Baview said, when you get to Helping Up Mission, see Ms. Nicki, she goes to my church. She can help you.

And he prayed with me and he said, do you need a chaplain? I said yes. And the chaplain came with me every day and prayed with me. And that same guy came every day and he prayed with me. He gave me a bunch of pamphlets about relapse, because I kept saying, my story is I keep relapsing. And every time something gets hard, I just relapse. I can stop, but I don’t stay stopped.

And I remember coming through the door and I was like, this is where I’m supposed to be. And I sat and I cried and I stayed.

And then I found out it was six months. I was like, oh no, I’m not doing six. That’s, I don’t need six months worth of help. And I was like, all right, I’m going to do 30 days. And my pastor said I’m gonna call you every day and I’m gonna pray for you. And she created a prayer circle of women for me. And every day they prayed for me during my blackout. So by the time I got my phone back, I had 30 days worth of prayers that I was able to read for the next 30 days. So I said I’m going to stay for 30 more days because I got 30 days of prayers.

And then eventually I was like, why am I even saying I’m leaving? I’m really not leaving. I was scared to tell them that I was going to stay the six months, because I’m so used to everyone depending on me, and me being the backbone. Like, well, how’s this going to happen without me? How is this? And what’s this?

And I realized, you weren’t doing anything anyway, but being drunk and in your room. They really don’t care. They really want you to just sit down. And my mother was very disappointed and upset. She was like, I see so much potential in you. And you just seem like you’re throwing your life away. Get it together.

Because for her drinking was, one day she just stopped. So she couldn’t understand why is this my fourth relapse? Why am I recovery? What is it that you’re not getting? You’re you talk to God hard enough because I just stopped. I talked to him one time and I stopped. So you should have just stopped. And I had to go through, after being here a while, explaining to her, I gotta deal with all this stuff from three, cause that’s my first memory of it. But it was before then.

And normally, if I would get a flash of what happened to me, I would go drink to go to sleep. And I had to get on medication and I had to start dealing with all that stuff. And then going to spiritual life was helpful, because it was teaching me how to live a God filled life. And then substance abuse disorder class we had with Ms. Vicky was teaching me that I was a codependent from birth, like you have no choice but to be that, when you have two parents that are addicts. And then I married someone who was addicted to marijuana, not realizing I was a codependent in that relationship. And I always took care of everyone else. And I never really analyzed myself, what was going on with me, how I felt. I never set boundaries. I had no self-esteem. I, I would say I feel pretty, but I didn’t mean it. I would say I was okay, because I became the perfect liar of how are you? Great! And could do it with a smile.

And I had to really get inside myself on some things, and figure out what I wanted to do with my life, because I really had no clue, until I came here, of who I was. I had pretended so long to be someone else because I had to be…

I had to be perfect. I had to pretend not to hurt. I had to pretend to be happy, I had to pretend that everything was okay. I had to pretend that I could do it by myself and I really… and the women here was so nice, and they would talk to me about what they were going through. And I was like, oh my God, I’m not by myself. And it was genuine godly love, with no expectation. With no ” I’m going to be nice to you today, but tomorrow you better…” It was everything that I ever experienced about friendship and love was a lie till like 8.

I felt at home. And it was crazy because I never felt so comfortable. And people would think sharing a room with 12, with sharing of space with strangers, a bathroom with 12 women, you would feel like, uncomfortable, but I felt most comfortable. I felt like this is my healing. Like I never was a morning person, because I hated to wake up, because every day I wished that I was dead.

So I’m waking up. Good morning. Good morning. I’m singing. I’m happy. I had a reason to get up. My work therapy with Ms. Nicki was helping me because not only was I doing work therapy, but she would be praying with us. She would be talking to us. And she would say, come on, let’s talk. Let’s pray. What’s going on? We got to come on and work through it, talk to me. And it just changed my entire perspective. And the more I see new women come in and I would watch ’em go. “I ain’t staying…” The HUM has magic in it. I’m sorry, you going to stay. “I’m only here for two weeks and then I’m leaving.” Okay.

And I enjoy working in the kitchen because it gave me an opportunity as new people came in to greet them and it’s something and it took me back to what I love to do. I love to cook. I love to make people feel good when they eat. So I just really enjoyed it. And being around everybody every day and talking to them, and then having a personal relationship and it got to the point where people start coming to me for prayer, every.

And I was like, what is happening? My pastor became my prayer partner, and we would pray in the morning, and then I would pray with the ladies. And then I started doing devotion. They were like, what? That was good. And I was like, you know what? This is what I do. I’m a teacher of the word of God. That’s what I do.

When I was drinking, I was so dark. And then it was like, I think it was the first outing with Joanna. She had us go off alone for forest therapy and I was by myself and a red sparrow came and I started singing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” and God gave me my voice back. And I was like oh, it was like a weight lifted. And I have never felt like that. And it was really the feeling of the Holy Spirit like I never felt it. And every day it just got better. And it just completely changed. And I’ve watched the miracle of us doing something in spiritual life on a Monday, and then go to a meeting on Tuesday. Here someone would come in, and someone would share something from a different from the 911 program who couldn’t have, they didn’t know what happened in spiritual life, but it all would mesh and matter. And then go to Bible study with my church and the same scripture from spiritual life would be what’s happening. And I start realizing that God ordained it and he was just lining me up to get through it.

And then I start looking back at my life and just analyzing where I was turning back. And I dissected my relapses while I was here. I literally took my relapses apart and said, every time you relapse, these are the things that happened. And I wrote them down and I put them on my wall by my bed and I read them every day.

Because if you feel this, you need to go talk to Donna. If you feel that, you need to talk to Ms. Nikki, if you feel this, you need to see Joanna. If you feel this, or this isn’t working, your sleep isn’t right, this is when you need to up your meds… and I just followed that for myself.

And that’s how I ended up getting out of it, because otherwise I would have been stuck trying to do the same thing, which is be dry and not work in any program. And then suddenly someone talks about Celebrate Recovery and I was like, I never heard of it. And they start coming in on Saturdays and I was like, this is great. It’s a spiritual 12 step program. I’m like, what? Awesome. So two weeks ago I think I went, and it was great because I couldn’t believe it’s actually a recovery place where I can go for me, my fiance can go for his codependency, and my son can go and be with other children who is now a COVID kid. Like he has poor social skills because he wants to be everyone’s friend, because he didn’t have friends, because he’s been isolated for two years.

So he’s excited to go and be around other children. So it’s been a blessing for my entire family. My children do Alanon meetings online. I didn’t know Alanon existed. And I said to myself, if I would have had an Alanon at seven, where would I be? So I made that a priority for my son. I made therapy a priority for my youngest.

My oldest son is moving back to Baltimore tomorrow. He said, I see the change in you. I think you ready for me to come home? And I was like, what? He was like, I was waiting for you to get it together. Cause I wasn’t coming back till you got yourself together. And I don’t like it here. I miss you. I miss being around you. And he’s coming home. So I was like, oh, this is awesome. So it just had a whole ripple effect on my entire family. And now me and my sister’s relationship is like, whoa, because now me being in an actual 12 step program of recovery, I’m being open and honest about everything.

And I no longer lie about anything. If this is how I feel, this is how I feel. I’m sorry if people don’t like it, but this is how I feel. If I can do something I can, if I can’t do it, I can ‘t. If someone asks me to show up, I do my best. Look, I’m a late person. I’m working on it, doing my best. Before, it’d be just I’m late, I’m just not going to go. Now I understand people relying on you. Your word is your word. Words matter, Donna says all the time. So now I choose my words carefully. I think about what I’m doing, the people around me.

And now my new thing is, I graduated and I was like, I’m leaving. And I was like, no, I delayed it, knowing it’s what I need to do, because I still have the support of the HUM. And the process they had for me was great because for the first four months I wasn’t allowed to work, the last two I was. So once I started working, I still could go to work and come back here. And if I had a bad day at work, they were there. I could still go to therapy. I could still talk to Donna. I could still go to spiritual life. I could still be in-between interact with the women. So for those two months, I focused on getting ready to leave, instead of just… most programs you just leave. And I know work is a trigger for me. So if I’m working and something happens, I know I can depend on this place. I know the HUM is there, no matter what.

And then to graduate in here, we got to figure out a way to keep you connected. We got to figure out what we’re going to do. What can you do? And I’m like, I’ll do anything.

Like right now, the job that I have is for a, a retirement plan. And it can be stressful because people are calling about their money. And it’s by phone. And a lot of it is, I’ve realized that before, I didn’t have a understanding of peace. So when somebody would call me or something would happen at work and I would be attacked, I would think, oh, I’m gonna just get a drink. I don’t know what to do. Now, I think yesterday I got cussed out four times in less than like an hour. And I smiled, like it didn’t even hit me, because now every attack isn’t personal. My inner peace is so much different. Nothing about other people’s problems, I don’t own them as my problem. Where I didn’t understand that before. I really felt like if someone else felt bad, I had to feel bad. If someone cursed me out, which, because somebody else processed their check wrong, I just happened to answer the call and get the cuss words and the slander and all that about the company and you people as a whole. They’re not mad at me. It’s the situation. And I’ve learned how to differentiate between a situation and then personal attack. And I don’t take everything personal.

And things go wrong. Like I was in a horrific car accident while I was here. I got hit by a drunk driver, hilarious, in front of my bar that I used to sneak to in the middle of the night. And my car was totaled. I think that is God’s way of… see what happened? This could have been you.

I never had a DUI. And he threatened to kill me. But my only thought was, I’m not mad at him. Look, this was me, raging, upset, confused, lost, and all I could do to stand there and pray for him. Wow. My guys in front of my bar damn, baby girl, they hit your car. They tore your car up, you alright? I’m okay. You want me to do something? No, it’s okay.

In the midst of it, I just, I laughed because I said, God has a sense of humor. Sometimes in that moment, I was terrified. But honestly, when I look back at it, it had to happen that way, because it was another miracle of him showing me that this stuff’s not about you.

So the same way my parents were addicts and my life was just a side piece of their addiction. They didn’t intentionally pick up and think, I’m ruining Renee. The same way, that alcoholic that hit me didn’t intend to say I’ma total her car and permanently damage her back. So I’m not like walking around oh my God, my back is damaged, and now I’m not drinking, and I can’t even take the meds for my back. I was like, oh I guess I’ll just buy one of those nice massage chairs that you sit in and it just massage your back when my money come. And then I got a better car. And this car is bigger. So when it’s time to go to meetings, me and the ladies can fit in the car and we take them to meetings.

So it was a win-win for me. So I really did not lose in that situation. So I start looking at, let me see myself, let me see the world different. Let me see other people different. What is my compassion for, what am I trying to change? Where does my peace lie? But this is what I had to do to get through my path and sobriety, because I need to learn to deal with the outside world. I need to have stress and then figure out how to navigate it.

When the whole world’s falling apart, what do you do? Now I have therapy. I’m on my medication. I go to meetings, I have a sponsor. I have a home group. None of which I never did before.

So I’ve really just learned that it really is nothing negative under the sun. I really believe that. There’s no thing in this world that is meant to do permanent harm forever. And I never felt that way until I got here. Everything is either a lesson or a blessing. Period.

And if you look at life that way you can’t be moved by bad things. There’s nothing that will take you from God when you look at life that way.

If I could talk to myself when I was a younger child, I would definitely say, it’s not your fault. Everything in life that happens to you is not your fault.

You are beautiful, and God does love you.

I think it’s so difficult as a child to see adults do wrong, who are supposed to lead you. And to feel like that’s something you would want to be when you grow up.

I think it would just be grow up and be yourself, just be genuinely you and feel whatever you want to feel and tell people how you feel, no matter what. No matter what, be honest, period.

So the ladies that would come to this program behind me, I would say, stay. Every moment will not be perfect, but there is a miracle here, and you have to stay to see it. It’s no way you can leave before your miracle.

And everyone is worthy of an opportunity to change. Being asked to do things that are outside of your normal is when you grow. So just stick and stay. And I’ve never seen someone stay and do what they were told and fail. Never. The failure comes when you don’t follow good orderly direction. And everyone here loves you enough to give you good orderly direction from God. And nothing is done out of spite, vindictiveness, hurt, or from a place of pain. It’s all genuine love. So follow what you’re asked to do.

A lot of times people don’t realize when they give, where it goes. A lot of times as a giver, you do because you feel like you’re supposed to do. So if anyone has ever given anything to Helping Up Mission in this program, I swear it’s helping people. There are so many miracles. For me, it was coming in not having anything, and getting a Bible and a toothbrush and underwear.

Like just having the opportunity to spend time with the Redeemer ladies and they did like a painting for us, letting us do paint and Rita’s ice and donating things so we can have outings and it’s just been absolutely amazing.

I think ultimately everything that I’ve been given while I was here has been, again, it was like aligned with my life. I got a birthday gift and a card with a handwritten note from one of the donors, with a prayer that was the same prayer, similar to the prayer I said the day when I was in my room, on my bed before I got here.

It’s more than needed to get through this process because those small miracles make all the difference when you are in a position we’re in, and you feel like we feel. Because sometimes it’s that shot of light in darkness that you just don’t get, unless you get something from a stranger, because that’s how you know it’s God.

Vic: Just a reminder to take our listener survey if you haven’t yet. I want to make one of your favorite shows and only way for me to do that is to know what you think. So please follow the link in the show notes. It’s hum.page.link/survey.

This podcast was produced by me, Vic King, with music by Blue Dot Sessions.

So grateful to Renee and the many others who have shared their stories on this podcast and in our monthly newsletter over the years.

Last week we had our ribbon cutting for the new women’s and children’s center, where our pilot women’s program is going to be moving next month. So excited to see all the hope, healing, and life transformation that’s going to happen there.

Thank you for listening… Until next time.

“My scars make me beautiful” – Jeremy’s Story

Listen as Jeremy shares his story of healing from childhood trauma and abuse, and recovery from addiction to alcohol, heroin, and fentanyl.

Please help us make a better podcast by taking our listener survey (https://hum.page.link/survey)

Produced by Vic King. (https://vicking.ninja) Music by Blue Dot Sessions. (https://sessions.blue)


Vic: From Helping Up Mission, this is A Shot of Hope.

Before we get started, I have a favor to ask. I’ve been making this podcast for over five years now, and I’m always trying to improve, to make it better. In fact, my goal is to make one of your favorite shows. I’d love to know how that’s going and I put together a little survey. Won’t take long I promise.

But even if this is the first episode of this podcast that you’ve ever listened to, I would love for you to fill it out. The link is in the show notes. It’s hum.page.link/survey. It’s a bunch of questions, but they’re almost all multiple choice. Don’t overthink it; just go with your gut. It will help me to make a better podcast. I’ll remind you again about this at the end of this episode, but thanks. And thank you for listening.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Jeremy over the past two years now. He came into the program here at helping up mission, angry and terrified. And he’s living now with more freedom and happiness than I think he ever could have imagined was possible. He also just came on staff at the mission this summer. He’s working as part of our facilities team. So I’m proud to now count him as a colleague in this work.

Jeremy’s story, like all of our stories, starts when he was very young. In fact, the first thing you hear is two of his earliest childhood memories. And they’re not pleasant ones. Jeremy’s life and especially as childhood were marked by trauma and abuse. I don’t know if any episodes of this podcast are what I would call light listening.

But this episode is a particularly tough one. There are some mature themes, including descriptions of abuse. There’s some mature language. So consider this your content advisory warning. I don’t know if I’ve ever given one of those on this podcast before, but like I said, it’s intense. It’s ultimately beautifully redemptive. But can you really have one without the other?

The other thing I should mention is that and a couple of weeks, I’m going to be speaking at the Citygate Network conference, it’s .The national conference of organizations like Helping Up Mission and it’s meeting in Baltimore this year which is kind of fun. I’m giving one session on podcasting. So if you’re going to be there, and you’re listening to this podcast, we should totally talk.

Another one of the seminars that I’m going to be presenting at is about trauma healing. A key part of Jeremy’s process was a group that he participated in called a trauma healing group. And Jeremy is going to be sharing some of his story at that seminar with me as well.

And then one note on the context of this recording. Most of the interviews on this podcast are recorded in my office. This recording was actually in our classroom. Over the course of several classes my colleague Mike and I asked Jeremy to share his story in detail and I stuck a mic on him, with his permission of course, and recorded it. That accounts for both the difference in the audio quality, but also just a little difference in the way he’s speaking. You know, he’s not speaking to one person, he’s speaking to a group. So it almost feels like you’re sitting in on a meeting.

All right. Enough of me talking. Let’s get to Jeremy’s story.

Jeremy: To understand my story you have to understand how it started. So imagine, I lived in Southwest Baltimore in a rowhome. How we ended up with a wood burning stove. I don’t know. We had one. Well, in the summer we would line our yard with wood. and my abuser was my stepdad. He was not just physically abusive. He was mentally abusive. And how he combined the two is the story that I’m about to tell you. In the back of our yard after the wooded season from the summer, we would go chop the wood. You know what a chopping block is. He would put smaller logs on top of that. And at six years old, he’d make me hold the log while he swung the ax at me. Don’t let the wood go, because if you do, I’m going to f*** you up. So imagine at six years old, having someone swing an ax at you, someone that you trust and is supposed to care for you and love, you mentally torture you with the possibility of physical abuse. And then if I did drop the log, I’d get hit. That’s the type of person he was.

I was five years old. And the only reason I remember this is because it was so traumatic. I was in kindergarten and they had two separate classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. And I was in the afternoon class. And, my stepdad was asleep on the couch. I’m guessing because he was taking a nap before he had to take me to school. In our kitchen we had this old clock with the analog clocks on it, and it said 11 o’clock and I knew I was supposed to be at school at 11 o’clock. So I saw at 11 o’clock. What I didn’t realize is that that clock was two hours fast. School’s only a couple blocks away. I knew where it was. I knew how to get there. Cause I walked there every day was in my neighborhood. So I didn’t wake my dad, my stepdad up. I walked to school when I got there. The morning class was still in there and I was confused, but the teacher saw me there and she went and called my stepdad.

So my stepdad came in and got me. And, he beat me to the point where I pissed my pants and that was before we got in the car. Then when we got in the car, before he left, he beat me again, then when I stopped at the red light, he put the car in park and he turned around and he beat me again. Then the next red light did the same thing. Third red light, turned around and beat me in my face. Told me to stop crying. How dare you piss yourself. Look at you.

Then he took me to my grandmother’s house. His mother. Beat me again in front of her. She did nothing. What did he do? Was her response. That’s the type of person he was, that’s the type of torture I lived with every day for 12 years. It wasn’t just enough for him to physically abuse me. He knew if he wanted it to stick, which it seemed like he did, he had to ingrain it mentally, and he knew how to do that. And he did. He had this thing where he would put me up against the wall and he beat negative affirmations into me. You ain’t shit. You ain’t never going to be shit. You’re f***ing worthless. And he’d hit me so hard that it bruised my chest. It’s almost like he knew what he was doing.

That went on until I was 12 years old. Cause I don’t remember a lot of my childhood. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life and remember it, I blocked out so much of my childhood that it’s too traumatic for me even to deal with as an adult. To have somebody tell me that I need to deal with that is, it’s more than scary, it’s life threatening, but that’s what I came here to deal with. That’s why I came to the HUM. Because I know without dealing with that, that trauma, I’m going to stay sick. And I don’t want to be sick anymore.

I’ve always had some basis of faith. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know why it’s instilled in me how I’ve continued to carry it after all that I’ve seen. All that’s been done to me, all that I’ve done to myself. And to still have a belief in God to know that I can pray and he’ll answer my prayers. Where that came from I don’t know, it could have been my mom. My mom and I would watch, while my brothers and sister were watching scary movies downstairs. I hate scary movies. We would go in her bedroom and read the Bible. I didn’t remember any of it. I just remembered that moment being with a loving, caring mom. but then the next day she’d watch my dad beat the f*** out of me. And then she’d take me to church with her to Sunday school. So my that’s where my distortion of God started. How can you do that to an innocent child? That’s just to God. My mom: how could you watch that man do that to me and allow it and then justify it and be okay with it? How insecure are you? I mean, it took me a while to realize, you know, that that was her stuff. It wasn’t anything that I did, even with him, you know, his abuse. That was his stuff. It wasn’t mine. It’s taken me till I got here to realize that, and the spiritual awakening that I had, to see it for what it was.

At 12 years old, I had free reign. Didn’t have to go to school anymore. I could run the streets, stay out late as I want it. I could do whatever I wanted. And what did I do? I did as much drugs as I could do, filled that void inside of me with whatever I could possibly get my hands on. Most of the time I sniffed glue because it made me unconscious to everything in life. My thoughts, my life, how bad it sucked, the abuse that I had been through. It just, it, I didn’t have to deal with reality. My reality was whatever I made it. And I lived like that for, I don’t know, three or four years, until there was a geographical change. that kind of sobered me up for a little bit. It wasn’t long, maybe a year or two. Right off the jump I got, I had abandonment issues. I had trust issues. I didn’t trust anyone.

I was 18. I was at a party. Someone laid out a line of some heroin and said, look, try this. that was it for me. I think I said this in a meeting, that was the warm blanket out of the dryer, wrap it around yourself, lose yourself in it. And I did. Cause it felt too good. I didn’t have to deal with life. I’m an introvert. It made me an extrovert. It made me everything I wanted. Not everything I wanted, everything I thought people wanted me to be. Everybody else’s perception of me. That’s how heroin made me feel. It made me feel like Superman. I could do whatever I wanted. I could accomplish anything, no matter how false that was. Cause it was definitely false. my addiction progressed pretty quickly then, it was just, once a week, every other week, at parties. Then it became, you know, daily and one habit, then it became, I had to cop before work, had to cop after work, maybe once or twice during the day, if I can get away with it. and that was it.

Always had some bit of faith in God. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it was, how it’s been instilled. I don’t know how I’ve kept a hold of it for so long after all that I’ve done to myself and that’s been done to me. At 23, I prayed to God. I’ll never forget it. It was, it was new year’s Eve. I was laying alone. Dope sick in my apartment. and I, for once got honest with God, I asked for help. I asked for a real family. I asked for healing. I asked for serenity. I asked for everything I never had growing up. and I went to sleep. And I woke up the next day and believe it or not, my, my prayer was answered. My uncle called and asked me if I wanted to move to Michigan. A geographical change. Great. Nobody knows me there. My trauma can’t follow me there. Hmm. You know, but look, I know some people hate the cliches, but wherever you go. There you are. I thought moving to Michigan would heal me somehow. My addiction would just disappear. So I moved to Michigan. My uncle offered me a job and I met the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met in my life, who ended up being my wife and the mother of my two children.

I had a beautiful home white picket fence. Every material thing you could have or ask for, I had. Six figure income. Wasn’t enough. My kids weren’t enough. I allowed my addiction to tell me that my kids were better off without me, what do I know about love? All I’ve ever experienced in my life was hatred and abuse. I didn’t want to put that off on them, even though I wasn’t that guy, you know, I coached their softball teams, their soccer teams, their 30 ball games. You know, I was that really good dad. Everybody else saw the good in me, the good person that I was, the honest caring person. The most important person didn’t see it. And that was me. I couldn’t see it. I was blinded to it.

Jeremy: I left my wife and my kids 10 years ago. I left because I was in active addiction. I tried to white knuckle it, I mean, I’m sure like a lot addicts did. I didn’t go to a program. I didn’t try counseling. I didn’t do nothing. I’d thought the geographical change would be enough. Ignoring it is the better option because then I don’t have to deal with any of it. That’s exactly what I did time and time and time again. So, it actually got to the point where. My wife was going to have me physically removed from my own home by the police. The police showed up with a writ for me to go to court to prove why I should be allowed to stay in my own home because I bought my kids Christmas presents and I sold them the day after. and I convinced myself that it was okay because I bought those presents and I’ll replace them sometime later. And I understand why my wife did what she did. She was protecting my kids. And I I love her for it, you know, for having the strength and courage to put someone she loved and wanted to spend the rest of her life out.

She wasn’t even worried about her own welfare. She was worried about my kids and I wasn’t. So I talked myself into to running back to Maryland because the solution is here for some reason. It wasn’t, it wasn’t the solution. I knew what I was doing. I was making it so I can continue to use, at whatever cost. So when I moved back here, It made it easier for me to use because now that guilt and shame that I had from leaving my kids and my wife, I could sit in that and justify why I use. For however much longer. And that was 2009. I hadn’t stopped getting high since then. Many trips to jail, many recovery programs, many outpatients, many therapists. Wasn’t enough, it just, it, it wouldn’t stick.

One time I got arrested, I was at the homeless shelter in Catonsville. On Wade Avenue. I go in the bathroom stall at, after lights out and I put one in me. And I, all I remember are like still images of me Kung Fu fighting some poor dude in the dorm. And I wake up. And I’m handcuffed to the chair in the director’s office and there’s a cop sitting next to me. So he puts me in the back of the police car and I have sweat pants on and I kind of remembered, I put the two pills of dope inside the little draw string holes in my sweat pants. I get the bright idea of to lay out a line of dope on the bench seat of the back of this police car. He’s never going to see me. And he didn’t. So I don’t even know how to, honestly, I don’t even know how I did it with with my arms behind my back. But I managed. An addict to find a way. I found a way to do it. so I sniffed this line of dope and think, all right, great. I’ll be good till they let me out of my own recon. He gets me out of the car and he takes me up to the door to take me inside. And he kind of turns around and looks at me. and he said, the f*** is wrong with you? The pill of dope was stuck to the side of my nose. And he didn’t say it to be smart. He said it like, inside what is wrong with you? Do you see the insanity of what you’re doing?

And that, that hit home. I went to court and the judge asked me, he said, well, mr. Bellows, you’ve already been here for 90 days. Your charges only carry 60 days. What do you want me to do with you? For actually the first time in my life, I was honest. I said, if you let me out, I will kill myself or you’ll see me again in a month with a brand new set of charges. I said, I need help. I said, I can’t do it on my own. He got me into a great program in Owings Mills. I embraced it at first. I started my own business while I was still in this rehab. I got everything back, but one thing I didn’t do is deal with the reason behind my addiction. Wasn’t just using. I didn’t deal with the 85%. So, when I left the last rehab that started the run that brought me here. An eight year run.

For me to be willing to get help this time, I had to get broken. I mean, not just mentally and physically, but spiritually broken. And I’ll tell you how that happened. me and my younger brother, my little brother, after my dad had left and my mom, you know, kinda disappeared, we were all each other had. You know, and we vowed to each other that we’d take care of each other at all costs, no matter what. And we did for the rest of our lives, you know, there was never any judgment. We’d use together. We never got clean together. We lived together. we took care of him, you know, for 35 years. No matter what, whenever one of us picked up the phone, the other would always answer. And, I got in my truck when I lived in Michigan, when I heard he was living in an abandoned warehouse down here in Baltimore, shooting dope and coke.

And I came and made him get in my truck and took him to Michigan with me. I mean, those were the lengths that we went to for each other because we knew we were all, we were the only people that we both could trust that wouldn’t judge one another. So I say we were close, we weren’t just close, we weren’t just best friends, I mean, we were more than friends.

I didn’t hear from him for a couple of days. What had happened was, he died, overdosed. They brought him back. They had to hit him like six or seven times and they brought him back. He told me what happened. And then he told me what they diagnosed him with when he was there. His pancreas was bad. He had the early stages of cirrhosis of the liver. And he was diagnosed with HIV. My reply to that was, to him was that, you know, look, it’s not that bad. They have medicine. You can be undetectable. You know, it’s not that bad. His reply to me was, it’s easy for you to say, it ain’t your life, and this is your fault anyway. You gave me the, you gave me Aids. My brother at the end thought that I gave him a dirty needle.

So the last conversation I had with my brother was, you know, him accusing me of being the cause of his, his illness. This was at Christmas. A few days passed after Christmas. January 3rd, 2019, he went home from the hospital. And he grabbed his phone, found the text message I sent it to him, took the two pills of dope and killed himself. And I gave him the dope that he did that with. Somebody I promise to protect. Somebody who I had taken care of my whole life and who had taken care of me. My soul broke that day. When I say that, I mean, I felt something in the core of my body break, and there wasn’t no, at that time there was no coming back for, I decided in that moment that life wasn’t worth living anymore.

I was going to do whatever it took to kill myself. Not by pistol because I’m afraid of pain. If I wasn’t afraid of pain, I wouldn’t be using, but I knew if I used fentanyl long enough. and as much as I could, eventually I’d just go to sleep and wouldn’t wake up anymore. So for the next year, that’s what I did every single day. I wake up in some bando or in some backyard, disappointed that God woke me up. Disappointed that I had to live another day in pain. I can’t even get my death right. Is what I was telling myself. So December 18th, I went and copped 10 pills of dope and I pulled into a gas station across from Mount St. Joseph high school in this little neighborhood up towards Catonsville. And I put two pills of fentanyl in me in the hopes that it would kill me, but it wasn’t enough. I was still conscious. So I loaded three needles up with the rest of the dope that I had. Now what happened next is kind of blurry. All I remember is putting the car in reverse and driving down Frederick Avenue.

And the next thing I remember was waking up with my face in the air bag and the side of my face tore up. My intake picture shows it. and that’s what I said earlier about… I didn’t find this out until I went to court for the charges that I got. but apparently, like I said, I didn’t just nod out. I accelerated before I hit this car because I wasn’t done trying to kill myself. What really hit me is that I wasn’t just trying to kill myself. I could have killed somebody else first. And for what? Because my pain was too much to bear I took, I tried to take somebody else’s life. I woke up on the floor of bookings a few hours later. And you know, this time I didn’t pray to get me out of jail. Get me out of the trouble that I was in. I surrendered. By surrender I mean, I gave up fighting anymore, fighting for my life, fighting for my sobriety. I’m done. My life is yours. Now what? This is my conversation I’m having to God on the floor, surrounded by sweaty meat sandwiches and empty milk cartons. Curled up in the corner.

I get out on my own recon and first thought was go get high. That’s what I did. I went up to Monroe and McHenry street and dope fiended somebody into giving me a well shot and a place to get high. And this guy who sold tools, I didn’t know him from Adam said, you know, I got you. you can go to my place. I’ll hook you up. So I go into this bando and it’s extension cord electric ran from somebody else’s house out, back. I go inside, I can’t think of anything or see anything other than: stop the pain, get high as quick as you can. So that’s what I did. I put what he gave me up in me, and there was no real effect other than a realization. I started looking around at where I, I had. This is where I’m that surrounded by a hundred full piss bottles, a thousand broken and untopped needles. Yellow tops, red tops, purple tops, glass vials everywhere, a pile of clothes that God knows how long they have been there and stinking. And I’m sitting there and this is your life now. This is how you’re going to spend the next 10 years of your life. And in that moment, I was okay with it. I was fine. I was willing to do that. But then something just told me that you’re better than this.

so I called my girlfriend at the time and so she picks me up, and a friend of mine had come through this program twice. and he’s been trying to get me to come here for two years, but I just wasn’t ready and didn’t want to come. But for some reason that night, when she came and picked me up from the city and took me out to her house and said, look, you got to figure out what you’re going to do. My friend called me, messaged me and just asked how I was doing. And I was, again, I was honest and I told him, you know, what had happened and where I was at and that I want to give up. He said, look, he’s like, I’ll make a phone call for you. He was like, but you need to be down at the mission at 6:00 AM. I went to sleep for the first time without having to put another shot at dope in me.

I woke up for the first time not sick. How that’s possible is only by God’s grace. For any addict, heroin or fentanyl addict knows the first thing you think of when you get up is getting that well shot. That’s what I thought every morning, that obsession and that compulsion to just get that one. I didn’t have that that morning for some reason, my only thought was to get here because I needed to be here. When I got here, my girlfriend dropped me off and I come inside the door. And I’m in my pockets and I got my girlfriend’s debit card. And by now I’m starting to get sick and I’m already buying cartons of cigarettes and selling up on the camera streets. So I can go get one more. Because who comes to rehab sober? Nobody I know. I know I never did. I tried to dope fiend my way out the door, but luckily Ben Riggins caught me and said, look man, I don’t think you should go out there by yourself.

After that, I finally get up to where I sleep now. And, at this point starts setting in. Why didn’t I get high one more time? You can’t do this. You know, there’s no way you’re going to withdraw in this bunk for the next, however long it’s going to take. I never withdrew from fentanyl before. Heroin I knew it was like five days, but the horror stories I heard and that I went through when I first got here, my sickness lasted three and a half months. Heavy. I mean, my body weighed a thousand pounds and I had to walk up and down them steps every single day. But I was willing to do it to get better. That first day I couldn’t sit still. the one and only time I’ve ever been in the rec in this building was the first day I got here. There’s no reason for me to be there. I just don’t go there. But that morning something said, go down to the rec. So I’m walking down to the rec and I get right outside of the chapel. And I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what drew me in, but something drew me inside of the chapel and there wasn’t anybody in there.

So I go in there and I sat down and, yeah, I actually, I looked up at the cross and I said, okay, now what? And I heard a voice, not an audible voice, but like, you know how everybody’s got, you got your inner dialogue. How you talk to yourself inside your head? I heard something say, let it go. And when I heard that, I felt, I don’t know what, it was, but I felt my eyes well up. And I sat in that chapel and I cried like a unconsolable child for hour and a half. Letting go of the last 40 years of pain, agony undealt with grief for the passing of my brother, my mother. I mean, just pure sadness. I had never cried in my life like that ever. I mean, I think the only time in my life I ever cried where all my sons were born. And those didn’t even feel as real as the emotion that I felt in that chapel. And that kind of started me on a journey to, you know: all right, what do you want to do while you’re here? What are you going to do? Just getting sober is not going to be enough. Just staying clean is not going to be enough. What’s it going to take to get it this time? So I prayed. For the first time, you know, in a really long time, an honest prayer for help, you know, not to get me out of jail or some bad situation, but for healing, for a relationship, you know, for spiritual healing. Cause I felt broke. I felt really broke when I came. You’ve been here. I’ll tell you all one thing about this building. There isn’t nothing in this building that you can’t accomplish or isn’t readily available for you. Closed mouths aren’t going to get fed. Whatever help you need, find the person who’s got. It might not have to be staff. It could be, you know, one of you guys. I found guys who have what I wanted. In the journey that I started, when I say that I surrendered, I put my life in those guys’ hands. Cause I make horrible decisions with my own life. I made the decision to walk away from my kids. I made the decision to try to kill myself everyday for a year. Those are the decisions I make. I literally told them, look for the next year. I’ll bring all my decisions to you guys and let you guide me on what should be done because I can’t do it. It’s like, with the steps, I can’t, you can. That’s my level of surrender. That’s where I had to be.

And I mean, it’s another cliche, but I had to be willing to be completely honest, open minded and willing. Honest about every aspect of my life and honest to the point where it’s, who are you when nobody’s looking? Who I can be, what type of character that takes, I had to be openminded to want to change and willing to change all my bad habits, willing to change all the things I had been stuck in for years, you know, willing to let go of my shame, guilt, the trauma. Yeah. And willing to pursue a relationship with God, because I knew up until this point that I had been trying to carry all my burdens alone. And they’re heavier than I can bear. I needed help. And there was no one else in my life that was willing to help because I burned every bridge I ever had. You know, I came in this program alone, no family, no friends, no nothing. I knew God was the answer and I didn’t know how to seek him out.

So my TC, he asked me, you know, when I first met him, what it was that I needed to work on. And one of the the biggest thing I needed to work on was the situation with my little brother, my role in his death, and, me not being able to grieve his loss. I wasn’t able to mourn for him at all. I couldn’t face my family. I didn’t go to his viewing because I couldn’t, because I was so trapped in the guilt and the shame that I had for the role that I played. My family blame me to this day for what happened to him. And they don’t know what happens, but you know, even now they still aren’t ready to talk to me.

And I understand because I took something from them that was very important. And you know, it was very important to me too. So I knew that that was the first thing that I needed to get through. The second thing was, I needed a stronger relationship with God because to deal with the third thing, which was the trauma from my childhood and bringing up all those, those feelings and, you know, not wanting to run from them, not wanting to escape all that pain and that agony I needed God first. And I didn’t know how else to do that. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the advice they had because every time I went to them, suggested that I sit with what I was going through. Sit with the sadness, sit with the guilt, sit with it. And I. First I’ve just rebelled against it. I didn’t want to sit with it. Who the hell wants to sit and feel bad constantly all day, every day and not want to run from it. Find some type of relief. And that’s the way I viewed it, but I had to look at it from another aspect that, you know, I had to go through it to get through it.

I sat with it for a long time. And Matt asked me to write a letter. I didn’t know how to process grief. I never had, I mean, I didn’t grieve when my mom died 10 years ago, I was indifferent to it. When she died, I felt no emotion about it. I was, you know, relieved in a sense that, you know, she wasn’t in pain anymore, but I didn’t allow myself to grieve for the loss of my mother. I just avoided it. I put that back to the farthest reaches of my mind, so I didn’t have to deal with it. So Matt said, write a letter to your brother as if he was still here and you wanted to, you know, tell him what your role was in it, how it made you feel, and then, you know, let all your sadness out on paper.

And that was easy for me to do, because to write it down is nothing because it’s just words on paper. And he made me bring it back to him. And I brought it back to him and I thought he was just going to read it and we were going to talk about it, but he made me read it out loud and I couldn’t even get through the first few words without crying unconsolably. Letting all that grief and anger out. And in the moment I was, I was mad that he was making me do it. Because I felt horrible. I felt all that guilt and all that shame. But what I realized now is what I felt was it leaving. I wasn’t holding it in anymore. I was actually letting it go. For me it’s not real until I say it. The words on paper, just that. If I don’t share it with anybody, they just stayed that, just words on paper, but to actually speak that stuff to somebody else, I’m forcing myself. To deal with it, to let it go, to let it out. So I don’t have to keep burying it with drugs or women or money or cars or whatever. I’m actually forcing myself to let it out. And it took quite a while for me to get through that whole letter because I couldn’t stop crying.

I couldn’t really even talk cause it hurt so much. After I was done it, it was a huge release because in reading that letter, I actually was grieving for him leaving, his loss and not being here anymore. And letting go of some of the guilt and shame that I felt for my role in his death. And then I shared it with Rallo and, I didn’t cry as much. You know, it just got easier for me to deal with, the more I shared it, the more I spoke it, the more it became real and the easier it became for me to deal with every time. And not once did I think about running out the door and going and getting high. And that’s usually my first reaction is don’t deal with it. Run from it. Bury it. Who wants to deal with that? I know I sure didn’t.

So we got through that and then the next step was my relationship with God, because I knew I needed him to accomplish the next step. And, what started happening when I started dealing with my relationship with God was I started getting really angry. I mean, not just angry, but rage. When someone would talk to me about God, I grabbed hold of a chair and I, I picture me throwing it out of a window because I had so much anger and resentment inside of me against God for what he allowed to happen to me my entire life. For me I’m a huge believer in predestination. God has a plan from beginning to end. There can’t be any deviation from it because it is at the end, the ending would change and he’s already thought it all the way through from beginning to end. So I think the God thing was one of the hardest for me to deal with, because again, Matt’s suggestion is, sit with it.

And I’m like, what do you mean? And it hurt so much the first time, I got to sit with this too? Because I kept getting blocked. Well, read the Bible? What does the Bible say? Or, you know, talk to God, pray. I might as well have been talking to a wall. Because I wasn’t getting any answers. I wasn’t getting any relief. You know, I’m, I’m actively, trying to seek out a relationship with you. And then I got to thinking about it and you know, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got, because I actually sat in this class over in that chair and Dan, he was sitting in this chair and he said, he said to me that God just wants a relationship with you. He wants nothing more than for you, you and him to have a loving kind relationship with each other. And I raised my hand and I said, how in the hell does God expect me to have a relationship with him when he destroyed my ability to have any relationship with anybody? When I was five years old? And now he wants me to come to him when he allowed all that to happen to me?

This is where in the back of my mind, forgiveness started playing a role in all this. At that point… he did this to me, all that pain, all that suffering, that’s God’s fault. That’s his plan. What’s the pain in that suffering. How do you justify destroying a child’s innocence at such a young age and why wasn’t there someone to protect him? Mainly you? Me talking to God. Why didn’t you step in? Why didn’t you stop it? So I was angry for, I mean, I think I sat with this for, I don’t know, a month, two months, a long time. The more I sought out God, the angrier I became and the more I wanted to rebel against what was happening. But what I didn’t realize that I realize now is that I was praying more. I was talking to God more. I was trying to find answers that I couldn’t, I couldn’t get, but yet I still wasn’t getting any answers. I wasn’t getting anywhere.

So the only thing I could do was flee. I thought about what’s your role in this, Jeremy? Why are you so mad? What’s going on? So I went out to the smoke pit over in 17 and I sat out there and I’m like, God help me. I’m tired of carrying these chains. been weighing me down for so long and I can’t do it by myself anymore. I’m tired of being mad. I’m tired of being upset. And I left it there. I left it in God’s hands to deal with however he saw fit. And I don’t know how, I just let it go in that moment. But I did. There have been three recurring songs that I’ve found since I’ve been here. if anybody knows who Lauren Daigle is, I strongly suggest listening to some of her music. It’s changed my life. It’s a song called You Say, Rescue, and, Look Up Child. And when I went down into the laundry room, I heard, you know, I got down to my desk and I heard this, the song Rescue playing in the back of my mind and specifically where it says, I will send you an army, to find you. And again, it’s like that little inner voice that I heard in the chapel that said, let it go. And like a couple minutes later, God sent me an army of guys to help. The guy, Kevin, he said, look, he said, I found something that might help you.

And it was two chapters, random chapters and verses out of the Bible. And, you know, we sat down and we read them and they had absolutely nothing to do with forgiveness or what I was struggling with. And, I go through the day with no answers and we get up into the trauma healing group and we start talking about, what else but forgiveness again? I started this trauma healing group that they have in here. And I’m like, you gotta be kidding me. F*** forgiveness is where I was at. Just too egregious, too bad. My stepfather don’t deserve my forgiveness. Neither does God. Why should I forgive them for what they did to me? Because in that moment, forgiveness was them saying sorry and me accepting it. That was my understanding of forgiveness at the time. So again, I’m angry, I’m full of rage and I don’t want to hear what any of them have to say about me forgiving my stepfather or me forgiving God or forgiving anybody else who had harmed me in my life. Some people just don’t deserve forgiveness.

Fast forward to the next day. I’m still mad. And I, I, again, no relief, none. Where’s my relief. Where are you? The Bible says you, you walk with us. You’re always here. Why are you not here? Why are you not helping? I’m tired of dealing with this. Please help me let it go. The next day I’m tired and I’m mad. I went to bed and somebody knocked on my bunk and I’m like, who’s waking me up. And it was God knocking on my bunk, just happened to be John Winchester that he sent to do it. So, hey man, you gotta get up and go to trauma class. So I got up, you know, pissed off that I was getting up and had to go. And I went and, again, I didn’t want to hear it. And, for a third time, the topic of the day is forgiveness again. And I’m like, look, I’ve had enough of this forgiveness for a day. It’s not worth my time. I ain’t trying to hear it. So I sat down and I don’t remember what we were talking about, but we were talking about… says in the Bible where God is sorry for sending man to earth and for all the things that we’ve done. When they said the word sorry, something piqued my attention. Sorry is not right. Sorry implies a mistake. There can’t be any mistakes with God, none, so that word’s not right. And for some reason, sorrowful struck in my mind.

And when I translated sorrowful, I saw something. I saw emotion from God, not like I looked at a person and saw him crying or anything, but I saw what emotion looked like. You know, what, what sorrow looked like, sadness, I guess, is a better way to put it. And this is kind of where this whole spiritual awakening, I guess you can call it started when I saw God’s sadness. I started thinking about, you know, whether God had the ability to have emotion. And I thought I knew right off, he has to, God can’t give us anything that he didn’t experience first. How would he even know what that looked like unless he had the ability to feel it and just share it.

And that’s when I saw, you know, the emotion of what sorrow was. After that, we started talking about kids and how, we teach our kids certain things, how we discipline our children, Laura Scott did. And when she said kids, something immediately clicked inside of me that became relatable. And it was, think of it like, When you punish your kids and you make them cry for you guys who have kids, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, was the first thing that popped into my mind. I heard God saying that to me, this is going to hurt me more than it hurt you. And I said that. That immediately became relatable to me. I immediately understood what he meant. I took that personally, the trauma that I went through, it’s going to hurt me more because I had to put you through it. But in the end, it’s going to make you stronger, more character. And I saw these things.

So we got to talking about that. And we, we split up in these four groups. The next moment, what they do is they give us these chapters and verses and they split them up and give them to everybody random, completely random. I sat down in the group and Matt handed us ours. And when he gave me the chapters, the two chapters and the verses, they were the exact same two that that guy gave me five o’clock that morning, exact same two. Again, I heard this inner voice say, are you ready? Here it comes.

And it gave me cold chills. And I got to thinking, okay, what? I felt a physical feeling. I don’t know what it was. I thought it was just, I don’t know how to explain it other than the Holy Spirit came into me to give me insight, knowledge, to be able to see what I needed to see. But it wasn’t just that, it was my soul being mended. Because I remember when I told you how I came here, my soul was broken from what happened. I felt healed in that moment. And I think the only reason that happened was because I was able to experience the Holy Spirit inside of my body. I stayed with that feeling and I’m sitting and trying to process all, everything that’s happening. Cause it happened pretty quick and, we start talking.

I don’t even remember what they were talking about, but I was, I was stuck inside of like a movie. I started to see visions. Like you recall certain memories in your head. They’re just pictures, they’re not constant movies. But I’m sitting there trying to think of what was going on inside of me and what I felt, what I saw as I looked up to God. And I saw God. Not looking directly at him. I saw something that I perceived to be God. And I saw him crying. I saw that sorrow in his eyes for the trauma that he put me through, then I looked down to my right and I saw Jesus being crucified on the cross.

I saw his back being opened by them, beating him. And then on my right on my left, I looked over and I saw my dad beating me and I felt the same pain. I just looked back to Jesus and I see him getting hit harder. And I look up to God and I see God crying harder. I saw more than just sadness, more than just sorrow. I saw true pain and I looked at Jesus and I saw him taking it like a champ. And I looked at me crying as a little kid with my back being broken open by my father. And I looked forward and I looked at my dad, my stepdad, my abuser, and I was able to look forward a little further. And I saw his dad doing it to him.

And again, I heard a voice inside of me say hurt people, hurt people. And I realized what that meant, what it was. That I don’t think he knew what he was doing. And when that happened, I forgave him for what he did to me. Not only did I forgive him, I thanked him in that moment. Because without what happened to me and what was done to me, I wouldn’t have seen what I saw. I wouldn’t have a solid foundation in my faith. I know God exists. God was with me in that moment. God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus, all three were in that room with me, helping heal me from all that pain, all that torture, all that trauma.

So for that, I was thankful and I forgave him. I mean, the forgiveness is just a small piece of it, but to be able to thank your abuser for doing what he did? That was what I needed. That was what I needed to get past all that. I’ll read this last thing what I found. After I left that class after I left the trauma healing group, right after that, I do individual sessions with Laura Scott cause you know, two hours of trauma healing is not enough. I need three. I always go down there and I’d look out the window, and next to her window, I found this little poem.

I’ve always liked my people a bit damaged, a bit rough around the edges, a bit difficult to stereotype, a bit stranger than the normal crowd. I like people whose eyes tell stories and whose smiles have fought through wars. If you’re perfect, chances are we aren’t going to get on. If you’re one of the cool kids, chances are you won’t like me. You see what I want is authentic. What I want to see is your purity. I want to see the way you wear your scars. I want to see how brave you are with your vulnerability. How emotionally naked do you let the world see you? Your damage may not be beautiful, but it has made you exquisite. It makes you original. Different. And one of my kind of people. Because people like you are the most incredible thing about this world.

That was God sending that to me, telling me that my scars make me beautiful, everything that I’ve been through makes me unique and exquisite.

And I think that’s pretty much it.

Vic: And that is Jeremy’s story. Thanks so much for listening and just a reminder, even if this is the only episode of A Shot of Hope you’ve ever listened to, could you fill out the survey? It’s a few questions to help me make this podcast better. My goal is to make one of your favorite shows. And the only way I can do that is if you share your thoughts. So the link is hum.page.link/survey. It’s in the show notes as well. I really appreciate it. All questions on that survey are courtesy of the brilliant team at Edison Research and the form, the Google form, is adapted from one created by the inimitable Evo Terra. Thanks to Evo and the Edison research folks for that. This episode was produced and hosted by me, Vic King, with music by Blue Dot Sessions. Thank you for, including me and for including Jeremy in your day. It’s good to be included. Catch you next time on A Shot of Hope.

Father and Son in Recovery: Carlton & Tyrell’s Story

Listen as Carlton and Tyrell share their father-and-son story of addiction and recovery, from Tyrell’s adoption at a young age to their reunion decades later.

Produced by Vic King. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.


Vic:   This is a shot of hope.  Tyrell was just two years old when his family split apart. Both his parents were struggling with drug addiction, which led to prison time, and Tyrell and his siblings were eventually placed in foster care and then adopted into a new family. The trauma of those early years stayed with Tyrell, and as a teenager, he felt lost, unsure who he was. Some high school experiences with drugs quickly blossomed into full-blown addiction.  But while Tyrell was falling into the hole of addiction, his father, his biological father Carlton, was climbing out. And here’s the crazy part: Tyrell and his brothers reconnected with their biological dad over Facebook and learned about Carlton’s history of addiction and recovery.

Today Carlton’s celebrating 15 years, 15 years of continuous sobriety. He graduated from the spiritual recovery program at Helping Up over 15 years ago. And so when Tyrell called him one day, Carlton was thrilled to bring his son to helping up mission. Tyrell’s now 18 months clean, and not only has he reconnected with his biological father, but he’s reconnected with God as father. This weekend, as we celebrate Juneteenth and father’s day, enjoy this story of liberation from the bondage of addiction and of reunion between father and son. This is a shot of hope.

Carlton: That’s my son Tyrell Helmick.  He’s 28 years old.

Tyrell: And that’s my father, Carlton Cheatham, and he’s 48 years old.

Vic: So since you’re older, we’ll start with you chronology-wise, right? Share just a little bit about  your childhood growing up. And then I want us to  come to  him being born.  Paint me a picture  of what that was like.

Carlton: I grew up in East Baltimore, close to John Hopkins.  I’m the youngest of eight kids. Pretty good raising..  Just my mom raised us, no father.   I mean, I can lead you to how I got to addiction. I had a pretty good childhood, pretty athletic. I witnessed my oldest brother get murdered in 1983 and I was 11 years old and um, that really devastated me. I meant like, I witnessed that. It messed me up.

And I started drinking. The age of 12. I started drinking. That transitioned very fast. started smoking cigarettes, started smoking weed, and I was off to the races. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade and I continue on using.

Tyrell’s mother, we grew up somewhat in the same neighborhood and we went to school together, middle school together. Growing up as a kid, my mom allowed us to have company and play music. And we was sneaking and drinking and smoking weed and all of them things.

And  I met Tyrell’s mom and  we started dating, and  at the age of 17,  Tyrell’s brother was born.  And it was on and popping from there. Like I said, it wasn’t even two years later she was pregnant with Tyrell, and we continue on dating and staying together, doing things.

Both of us was using drugs, our addiction, both  was taking off and the journey then to other things like snorting heroin and  drinking and partying and things of that nature. And it became a real downward spiral  after that.     Managed to survive five years staying with other people, as far as her mom, her stepdad.  We journeyed out on our own in our twenties, and we got our first apartment and it wasn’t long before then, we had,  not lost the apartment, but we had stopped paying the bills due to addiction.

And I left that  house and I took the kids. We were on the run, and not literally on the run, but  you can say on the run, I wasn’t staying there no more. I just decided to up and go. was a lot of things going on around there, and so  my mom, got in contact with my mom. And  she told me that  the social worker was looking for me. And  I ended up taking Tyrell and his older brother out to my mom’s house and I left them there. And  CPS came in and they took the kids. They offered to try to help me again.  But I was caught up in my addiction.

And  I didn’t go to court. I had made a decision that…  and I prayed about it and I said,  even in my addiction, I prayed. And I said, God, they’d be better off being raised by another family other than me.  So I ain’t go to court to fight, to try to get them back.  I wasn’t ready to stop using. And  that continued on for a long time afterwards.  It’s, it’s been like 24 years since I’d seen them. And I had been back and forth to prison myself. I came here to to Helping Up Up Mission in 2006.

Vic: When you gave them up, how old were you, Tyrell?

Carlton: Tyrell was two.

Tyrell: Yeah, I was two.  So I don’t really remember much when I was in foster care and I remember like my brother, like really taking care of us a lot.  And then one day we was at a  foster daycare  picnic. And my adopted parents at the time seen my older brother in line, he was getting us food. And  I guess from that moment on, like, God was in it.

So  they ended up adopting us.  And they adopted all three of us. And that’s where my journey takes off, where I moved to Cumberland.  Growing up, like growing up was good.  You know, I had everything that I ever  wanted.  I had  a family. It was good. Like we had clothes and  got new shoes for school and got to go on vacation.

Carlton: And so like they were adopted, and  they were adopted by  a white family. And so he shared with me later on that, like the kids used to tease him and,  you know, he felt a little inadequate. And so he felt a little awkward, he told me.  But I just knew that,  it didn’t matter what race it would be, but I knew they could do a better job than what I could  at the time.

Vic: So when did drugs and alcohol come into the picture for you?

Tyrell: 17. Yeah, I felt inadequate.   And  basically was sneaking.   But a kid on my cross country team, he came over and he said, Hey man, I got some weed, man. And I tried it and you know I, I got hot, sweaty, hopped in the shower, blacked out. And I didn’t really like it, but I felt  cool, you know? Like fitting in and stuff. So I tried it again and  I graduated high school and  I started college and really wasn’t fitting in, really wasn’t what I should be responsibility-wise, and  made it through a year of school and flunked out.

So  I started working.  And I just resorted to drinking and smoking and that led to psychedelics drugs, stuff, that sort. And you know, I just  started like living this party scene, because that’s where I fit in at.  And it spiraled downhill until, you know, I was picking up that pipe to smoke crystal meth. And it didn’t start out as a big deal, you know, I was working to maintain and  but it started as a party on the weekend type ordeal.

Then it started becoming like, all right, I need this in a work week, to where  I just wasn’t taking care of my responsibilities.  I would go out and party on the weekends instead of being home with my daughter, my baby daughter, and you know, enough was enough.  So we ended up splitting up. That really fueled my addiction. And I guess the breaking point was my grandma had passed away.   And you know, it just spiraled downhill.

Vic:  So let’s jump back to your story.   How’d you find out about this place?

Carlton:  I found out this, about this place. My brother, I have a brother Troy Cheatham who was here.  I don’t know how he managed make i t to Helping Up Mission, but at my end, I was sleeping in Bum Park over here on  Fayette and Fallsway behind the main, by the church st. Vincent dePaul. And  I was at my end, I was broken and  I asked God not let me die like that. And I ended up at Bayview hospital. I sat out there on the bus stop, me and a  friend. And  we sat out there for two days getting high on the bus stop, and  it was over for me. I couldn’t even get high. I couldn’t even get high. And  we had plenty of drugs and couldn’t get high. Now I couldn’t get high not one bit. And I was frustrated. I got in March. It was cold. And  he just said, we should go on and tell them we going to commit suicide and they’ll keep us.  cold out here.

So that sounded like the best idea I ever heard. So we did that and they ended up sending me to detox at Bayview. When you’re in detox, you have to find a program to go to on your third day. They had this old catalog book with different programs and numbers. And I ain’t go through that. I knew where I wanted to go, cause my brother Troy was here at the Helping Up Mission. He had asked me to come here on different occasions but I wasn’t ready. And I think he stayed for 11 months. He stayed here 11 months. And I got out of detox,

I came right here and I ended up staying here for,    stayed here for eight years.  Graduated the program. I had a lot of wreckage in my past. And a program member  told his boss about me. And  after for six months, I was able to get a job. And I stayed doing that job and I did what I needed to and I ended up staying for years before I transitioned into another job. But  I stayed, and I asked God, said, God, when’s my turn going to come? When I could be able to leave?

And I could remember hearing that little voice in my head say, you have a lot of wreckage in your past that you have address. And I owed back child  support for Tyrell and his brothers. I think I owed $16,000.  And so I really didn’t have the money to actually get an apartment. And  so I stayed  here at the helping up mission and they allowed me to stay,  and it turned into eight years. But in 2014 I moved out I had gotten a one bedroom apartment.  The guys introduced me to narcotics anonymous.

Being here at the mission, make five meetings a week. that was a great thing for me.  The guys showed me where the outside meetings were started going to meetings. Um I was listening in the meetings. They stay I need to a sponsor and I prayed. And  I got a sponsor and started doing step work and I’m working on blind faith  with the guidance of my sponsor. And told me all I had do is be honest. I did that  as a result, a Sunday, I’ll be celebrating 15 years.

But anyhow,  my youngest son reached out to me.  I ain’t answer the phone, but he texts me. And  uh he told me his biological name. He said, my name is  my biological name is Kelvin Cheatham.  My adopted name is Marcus Helmick. He said I just want to know if you’re my biological  father. And uh they found me on Facebook. And me and my oldest brother, and my two sisters, we drove down to West Virginia and  we got  opportunity to spend time with Tyrell and Marcus, which is the youngest of, my youngest son.

Vic: Well I want to hear, so I wanna hear your perspective of this.

Tyrell: My older brother asked me years back. He said  if I ever found  our biological parents,  would you be interested in meeting them? And back then I told him, I said, you know, I don’t want to meet them.   I was fueled in addiction and wasn’t thinking straight, but when my brother messaged me,  and I was super emotional.  I remember calling  three times,  and just before I could, even before I could even ring for him to answer, I was done, click, crying.   I was really emotional, but  I ended up eventually,  eventually calling and like talking a little bit and  asking him questions and…

Vic: Yeah.

Tyrell: Like when I was in like first or second grade,   I would ask my parents, I would be like,    where’s my father?  I guess you know somewhere down the line, I still remembered  my pop.   But it really, like I really started feeling different when I would see,  like, when I played sports, like track and field,   you know. I’d see an African-American  kid that I ran with, and his parents would come to support him, and his parents would be black and I’d be like,  his parents are black and like my parents are white. Like what’s going on? You know?    Like in college, that first semester college,  they had us do a family tree of our ancestors and like,  what ethnicity you were and stuff. And you know I told my teacher that I was adopted, and she was just like, we ended up  sharing our family tree in the class.

And I told the teacher I didn’t want to share because deep down  I don’t really know where I come from. You know? I can, she said well just use your adopted family. I said, but that’s really not where I come from. So I really don’t feel like the same.

Vic: Yeah I mean if you want to take the tree metaphor, you were transplanted.

Tyrell: And and I felt like I was missing that.  Like I felt like different than everyone else. I really did.  You know? And that  really fueled my addiction too. Cause  I didn’t really know who I was.

Carlton: 12 years later, God answered  my prayers and  I was praying and I kept saying, God, when you gonna let me see my kids? And  I also used to go on Facebook and try to look. I would type in, search their names, their names and nothing would come up. And I would look at pictures. Facebook requests, friend requests to see if people looked like my sons.

Vic: Did you tell him about helping up mission?

Carlton: Yes, I did.  remember them vividly in my head and he called me one day at the job, and he said, Hey, pops, I think I’m ready.  I said, ready for what? He said I want you to  come and get me and take me up to the program  that you were in.  I love my sons. I ain’t never stopped loving them.  I just couldn’t do for them when I was up in my active addiction. So when you said that, I said I’ma come and get you tomorrow.

Tyrell: So I got here on July 12th of 2019. And  you know once I got here, it was rough.   The first, like couple of days. Well I met big John. You know I came from West Virginia and it’s like a totally  different  atmosphere. Yeah.  The city lights and everything. I was bugging you know? Even I couldn’t leave the building.

I’m like, how did I get here? You know? And I remember  that first night,  messaging my adoptive mom. And I was like, I don’t know if this is gonna work.  And the first couple of weeks were rough. Things started changing.  I had to make meetings and I had to go to the classes.   I just started listening. Like listening to other people talk and just, I never really knew of any recovery or anything like that. And I just, I started talking you know? I started talking to people.  Like I started sharing with  Larry and some people that was in class with me, and I made the decision to  keep going.

Vic: How did your relationship start to change?

Carlton:  Quite naturally I wanted to to take him and guide him and protect him and…  but the relationship started building. And I could tell that even now, like with Tyrell, he tends to hold back a little bit with me.  But he’s starting to open up, to understand that I do love him and I want the best for him. And  I just want him to feel like, okay, that’s my pops. He got me, right?  And as he started to come out, I started taking him outside meetings and introducing h toim other people and   trying to help him get an understanding of recovery. And that he’s an addict.  His mom and dad was both an addict.  His mom used with him in active addiction. And so it’s quite natural that he would have them tend to So trying to make him aware of part of who he is as a person. And so he can feel comfortable with himself.

Just like we talk a lot, we do things a lot, we go out to eat and  we talk recovery and do meetings together.  I think our relationship is,    it’s going good   for father and son. We  have some good times together. The other day we were going to a meeting and  he  was smoking a cigarette, right? And I looked at him and I bust out laughing. He said, what you laughing at pops? I said, boy, you look just like me. Smoking that cigarette just like me, man.

And  I’m just telling you, it’s  just good, because hoping we can have a family reunion.      If we can make it through COVID.   Everybody have the opportunity to be able to come together and be able to enjoy each other, you know what I’m saying?

Vic: You mentioned earlier, describing your days of getting high. And as a young man,  as you’re connecting the dots now, like you’re thinking a factor there was not having a strong sense  of identity,  who Tyrell really is. Yeah. Is that an area that you’ve been able to grow in, like over the past couple of years? Who’s Tyrell today?

Tyrell: Tyrell today is…   you know,  he’s working on things.  I guess through the midst of everything I’ve been through, I’ve always just like people please, and we’ll do anything just for attention and love.

And so I’ve been working on that  today   I’m okay being with m   I’ve  found out who I am,  I guess through experiences  and through relationships. Yeah. Like actually   talking to  my father and stuff.

I did the floors here at the mission, I would always be up in the morning dancing. And everyone would be like, man, why are you so happy? And  I definitely get that from my father.

Carlton: He has a lot personality. So he loves his daughter, chats with her every day.

Tyrell: That I can.

Carlton: I mean he sends her money all the time. He left out the part that’s, being here, as a result he got a job working at John Hopkins  environmental services. So    he has a great personality.  A lot of my traits, you know I’m a people person. I love people. And so  he had that trait too. Like  just got a real good personality that he’s working on developing, and addressing some of the  defects and shortcomings of his past, and finding out  who he really is as a person and  addressing them issues.  But he’s fortunate. You know he got three grandmothers, he got three mothers,  he got  two fathers. You  know, he has a lot going for him. I tried to explain that to him. You have the best of both worlds, man.

I love my son and  I want great things for him. I want great things for Tyrell. And I  a want… the opportunity will come. If he stay in position, if he continue to do the right things for the right reason and constantly work on his recovery.

Vic: As we’re talking, I’m just thinking,   one of the primary metaphors that the Bible uses to describe God is father, which is interesting, right? People have had all kinds of experiences, right? Of fatherhood, of their father. And if they’ve been a father. But I guess I’m just curious,  how that lands with you?

Tyrell: I just feel like that he loves me and cares for me and  has never left my side, you know, as a father.  And  I just feel like he’s  continually revealing things to me,  whether it’s with my biological father or just through something throughout my day. Like I know  I was listening to  Hillsong United  and you know just praying.

And I was reminiscing about like older times, like times in my childhood. You know I thought about  going to Sunday school in Cumberland and I ended up reaching out to my Sunday school teacher.  And I talked to her this morning, we talked for like an hour. And  I was able to still have a relationship with her and she’s, she’s helping me out. She gave me  chapters of the Bible where that are easy reads and that aren’t overwhelming. And she said  I don’t have to  rush through the book.

Vic: That’s cool.

Tyrell: Yeah.

Vic: That’s cool. You reconnected with your old Sunday school teacher.  As we wrap up,    anything else that you would like to ask your son or or speak to your son?

Carlton: Yeah Yeah, I do. I just wanted let him know that I love him dearly.  I’ll constantly be there for Tyrell I just want him to know that I love him and that he call me for anything. This whole process,  I could see that God had put this together. I’ve been praying for a long time for this day to come, to be able to spend time with my kids and, and as well as being there for my grandkids. You know I got grandkids, I was super excited about having  three granddaughters and a grandson. I want to get an opportunity to be a part of y’all And  like I still don’t know who my youngest son or my oldest son,  like how they grew up  and how they developed their own identity  as people. I’m learning that with Tyrell right now   Like who he is as a person. And at time I said to him, him I told you I’ma backup.  I’m allow you to make some decisions for yourself.

Cause at first I started out being selfish. Aw come on, you going with me. And he had started to meet friends here and started  playing soccer, running with back on my feet. I was like being selfish. I’m wanting him to be with me all the time, cause I’m going to protect him and I’m going show him how this thing work and all of But I

Vic: You had to give him his space too.

Carlton: I had to give him his space, and that’s something that God dropped in my spirit and then…

Vic: That’s very cool.

Carlton: I shared him.

Vic:  That’s very cool. How about you? Is there anything you wanted to  say to your father  or ask?

Tyrell: I just wanted to say thank you  for, you know, bringing me to the helping up mission and really gave me a chance to get my life together and…   and  I really like our relationship and I’m thankful for that too.  I think that like helped mend a piece of my past.  A piece of who I am.  Just spending time with you and stuff, and just like doing daily inventory on myself.    I’m starting to like find myself, you know, as a person.  And I thank you, and I love you too.    I just look forward to more times, spending  time with you,  you know and   just being thankful.  Working on my relationships with family and with God, and I love you.

Carlton: Love you too. Yeah.

Tyrell: More than words.

Carlton: I tell him all the time, I love him.

Vic: Good stuff, gentlemen. Thank you. This is really special.

“It’s the village” – Jon’s story

Listen as Jon shares his story of addiction and recovery, including his growth in mental health, spiritual renewal, and plans to through-hike the Appalachian Trail.


Jon’s Story // A Shot of Hope

Vic:  Welcome to A Shot of Hope: stories of addiction, recovery, and grace from the campus of Helping Up Mission in Baltimore, Maryland. I’m Vic King, chaplain at Helping Up, and we are back after a long break. It’s great to be back. This is the story of our graduate Jonathon Stob. First time I met John, I was struck by his loquaciousness.

Here’s a man who would pause mid sentence to find the perfect word. It was hard to believe that someone was such a love for learning would, uh, skip college out of spite, but such is the power of unchecked anger. Stir that together with a father wound, add in a restaurant career, and John had the perfect recipe for alcoholism. But over the past two years at HUM, John’s begun to recover his true self.

When I asked him what’s changed. He named three things. His relationship with God has been renewed, with help from a trusted therapist he’s taken responsibility for his mental health, and he’s discovered the pleasures of walking, which is another way of saying he has slowed down. One of John’s favorite authors, Flannery O’Connor, wrote about the terrible speed of mercy.

In her stories, God’s mercy comes hurtling into the hardscrabble lives of her characters. In John’s case that mercy comes at about three miles per hour. He loves to walk, he loves to hike, and he’s actually making plans and training right now to hike the full Appalachian Trail next year in 2022. Exciting stuff.

So here, in his own words, Jonathan Stob.

 Jon:  I’m Jonathan Stob and I’m a Marylander.  I’m from just North of Annapolis.  Severna Park, it’s a thriving and affluent community. So I moved up here when I was 15. I moved with my dad. So I lived, my formative years  were all with  my dad. No, no mother figure.   It was an interesting way to grow up.  He’s a great guy but a lot of things that I didn’t know going on were kept very behind the scenes and I watched a man the who I respected my whole life, completely deconstruct through drinking and he hit a wall. He hit a really big wall, sobered up in 97, and things completely turned around for him.

Now, I’m not saying it’s just the booze. But it’s, it’s definitely a very large piece of the puzzle because the fog lifted for him. And things just fell into place  and  he’s a hard worker, so he worked on a lot of things, but it came out for the best.  He ended up getting remarried and then so on and so forth.

So the reason I bring that up is because I’ve always been interested in the dynamic about our parents being our models for life. So put that added pressure on one person, and put that continued added pressure on a person that doesn’t like to open up about things, you’ve imagined where, what kind of situations we got into with that as I got older, because I needed to know these things. 

The flood gate completely opened when I turned 21  I remember buying my first thing of beer and drinking by myself. And at that point, thinking this is, this is a bad idea you know, just kinda let it go. Graduated high school. Plans to go to school, got accepted, applied to one place, got accepted, all kinds of stuff,  scholarship, blah, blah, blah. The path was lined and I took it.  I took it off the table.  I didn’t want to do that. And part of me wanted to broadcast that I did it because I hated my dad so much. So in turn,  I ended up working, now bouncing around  job to job. I just couldn’t find my niche, and then restaurants came into play. So that just  ultimately became gas on the fire.  It’s cash in my pocket.

It’s everybody parties.  There’s good people in the restaurant business. There’s a lot of bad people  the good guy still was kind of following something. And so it was sort of like justified, I was making good friends and I was working. I was able to do things,  but I was robbed of a lot of things too.

I deprived myself of a lot of things.  Primarily  wanting to go back to school  and try and repair my relationship with my dad. So that went on for probably 10 years. And then I sobered up, I took the leap.    

I’ve recognized lately that  I have genuine anger issues,  borderline rage issues.  So I’d stayed up all night. I was living in Annapolis and I was working at a nice place and they’d been really good to me. So I stayed with them for a long  time, but I’d been up all night drinking.

I don’t know why I have no idea why.  It wasn’t anything in particular. And I had to work the next day and it was lunch. So I went into work, no sleep, drunk you know, just kept it under wraps. And it was with a manager that I,  that nobody really particularly got along with. But he got under my skin in particular.

We had an argument and then I went after him and I got fired. They were really good about it. They were like, okay, look.  We can’t give you your job back. We want you back, but  we can’t have that happen. So  the owner sat me down and said, listen, if you sober up, if you come back in a year and you have a chip, and Brittany is going to – my friend, Brittany -she’s going to keep an eye on you.

If you’ve been going to meetings and you turn your life around,  we’ll consider opening the door for you again. Like that’s how good the relationship was, but how bad the situation was. The next day I, I went to an AA meeting and it was,  it just hit, it hit the right spot.

Started going to meetings. And I went to a friend who was the first restaurant that I worked at and asked him if he needed any help.

And within a week, got a job back there. That brought me back to Severna Park. Which Anne Arundel Community College is like right there, literally within like five minutes. So the bus route going from Annapolis to Severna Park went through Anne Arundel Community College. I picked that up as a huge sign.

So I ended up going back to school.  I was sober.  It was working out really well, had a good sponsor, going to meetings, very diligent about it.  I had a place to live. Good neighborhood, good spot. Good roommate. I always had really good roommates. And ended up going back to school. And  that, that drive, that old drive from when I graduated high school.  It was, it’s like, it was sitting right there waiting for me, saying you’re doing the right thing.  This is what you want to do.

So add on top of everything else, a genuine enthusiasm for academia and wanting to succeed. And then  the rest is history in that sense. I  graduated from Anne Arundel, went back and cleaned all my grades up,  got into Maryland, went to Maryland, graduated from Maryland. Being sober made all of that possible, but all the things that went with it are what helped it grow and perpetuate: a connection with a higher power,  understanding what it is to accept people, warts and all.   You know, service work.

All the stuff, responsibility.  Even though it was like work and studying and all that stuff, you’re just grinding. And it’s,  I don’t want to go to a meeting. I don’t want to put up with people. But I have a service commitment. Be congenial, because you don’t know that that new guy’s coming through. You know what I mean? So while I was at Maryland,  actually while I was at, yeah, while I was at Maryland?  I decided to celebrate one night, and celebrating ended up becoming drinking. So I picked drinking back up.  When I graduated, I left there with like a self proposed black cloud, like that black cloud, like came back that I ruined the experience.

This is what I strove for my whole life to graduate from,   from an institution like this, with the degree  that I wanted. And I was hung over and beat up and angry again,  so that’s where this big wave started.  It was, I think, however long with my girlfriend who’d we dated since high school. She had that conversation with me  me, you know, I love you, but I can’t, I can’t watch you do this to yourself again. So she left. She was like  I just, I can’t.   Like  the owner from my restaurant:  you get your stuff together.   It was like one more big sign  that I just wasn’t paying attention to.  Like this was the woman I was going to marry, have a future with. And it was, she didn’t turn her back on me, but she definitely put up a big sign saying, this is not the life that you and I are going to have.

You need to do some work here. That drove me deeper into kind of a funk. And still in the restaurant business, which I was getting kind of upset about that.  Cash was nice and all the flexibility,   I needed to move on, but I didn’t.

So I just got continually frustrated and went deeper and deeper into a rabbit hole. So place I was working, I’d… I ended up blowing up one night and quitting, I went and talked with them and  they’d said  we’re going to suspend you for a week, but we’ll take you back.

And then quitting again and then got another job, ended up quitting that one.  I could have gone back and apologized,    and talked something out and probably had some kind of grace,   but I did that. This is where like pride came in.  Oh, I’m too good for that. But that’s where I started to really go down.

Your life isn’t worth it anymore.  So I cashed in my IRA and for about nine months, I just lived off of that. I was down to my last probably thousand dollars and I started looking into going somewhere and not coming back. And I mean that in a darker way than just being geographically  somewhere else.

So I went to Portland.  Portland, Maine in March, celebrated my birthday up there. And when it got to be  time, I extended it for another two, three days, got to time again, extended another two, three days. And eventually I just broke down and said, I can’t do this. This isn’t all right. I couldn’t grasp my dad seeing my body on a slab. That really put a dent in me.  I mean, it, it woke me up,  which was amazing. So on my birthday, I called and said, look  I’m here. This was the plan.

And I don’t, I’m scared to death.  So they said  come home.  Get on a train tomorrow and come home. So I did and I got back and my stepmom had said  listen, we’re gonna suggest a place.  We’ve been aware of it for a while. And we’ve been thinking about asking you to go.  It’s the helping up mission in Baltimore.

And basically our suggestion is we’re going to drive you up there tomorrow. So they pulled a fast one on me.

I was in Boston on St. Patrick’s day, waiting for a train. The next day, March 18th,  I was here. And I walked in the door and was just, I was just frightened because I’d never been. A part of anything like this before went and sat in the chairs.    That scared me.

It shouldn’t say it scared me, be judgmental like that, but it really woke me up.  This is a serious place. Like you’ve got to, you got to buckle down and do this. So I tried one last gasp and I went outside. I was like uh, you know, there’s guys sitting over there, they’re all just slumped over.

And then my step mom’s like, you have no other choice. That’s it. Go. That’s what it was. So I was here from March to October. And old habits die hard. I was being a big baby about things and couldn’t grasp onto that,  and um, I ended up leaving, so went back to Annapolis, bounced around hotels, back at an old restaurant that I’d worked at.

All of that came crashing down cause I was drinking again, like heavily. There’s a funny thing about all of that.  There’s a, there’s an adage  in the rooms about  every time you go out it, it just gets worse. The starting point is where it’s worse and  you’re progressively making it even more worse as you go.

And you don’t realize that  till you’ve bumped into that wall a few times. This was it. Living in hotels. You just walked away from a really good situation that was really helping you. And this is what you’re doing at 43 years old and things went south.

The anger and the rage came back. I took it out on one of my best friends. He ended up calling the Sheriff’s office on me and a warrant went out.  The day that I got the call from the Sheriff’s office was the day that I called Justin Melendy. I was standing outside. It was, December, it was cold. It was, and I was, I was,  that was the most frightened I’d ever been. There is the bottom. That’s it. I walked out of a cruddy hotel, nowhere to go, nothing to do in terms of how to make the situation better.

And then that’s when it was like, why are you not talking to the guys over at the mission? Why are you not doing that?  It was almost like higher power saying, again, you got these people that love you, you know, they’ll help. They’re willing, more than willing to help you out. Get over the fact that you made a mistake.

They’re not thinking of stuff like that. They’re thinking about your wellbeing.  They were like gravity.

They’re like, come on. Just get here. That’s all that matters. Just get here. Stayed in a really, even worse hotel. Talk about fleabag hotel. I mean, this place, this was bad. Up at like two o’clock the next morning and sprint to the bus, which was like three miles away, standing outside, freezing cold.

And right there was the first and only time I think I’m ever really gonna know what it was like to say to God, Hey, please get me out of this please I mean, Help me please. Get me- I wasn’t bargaining- but it was like, help me out of this, please. I need your help. I need your help. And wouldn’t you know, it, two seconds later, the bus shows up, but it’s driving down the center lane of the highway.

It’s not coming to get me. So this is where God’s telling me, you go stand out in front of that bus. This is how dedicated you’re going to be. And that bus saw me and it turned in. So almost got run over by a bus, but it woke me up and I got here. Walked in the door. It was, it was five, five 30 in the morning, sat in the chairs and  yeah  I was back in and graciously back in. 

The seed phase moved really quickly, I think because I paid so much more attention to everything and  really honored it. Tore through a ton of books, but I also tried to do something different, which was, I’d never read biographies before, but I read a lot of biographies. Yeah. So it was cool to get perspective from like good men, good people cause Flannery O’Connor too.  And then blackout was over.  Then became the responsibility of getting your phone and being outside again.  That was a different experience.  Don’t go by bars. Don’t go by that. Don’t go do this. Don’t go do that.

Which makes it a little limiting,  but it actually  got me to start exercising too. uh, So going outside  was with a purpose.  You know, you were held accountable, but there was enough room there for you to say, am I doing the right thing? And when free time comes around, am I doing the right thing with my free time? That was helpful to have that space. I guess the equanimity was probably a big deal.  A big part of it was filled with class  and meetings and stuff like that.

But free time also, it’s like you, you have to be an adult about this stuff.  Can’t lay around,  just have to do some things that are different.  The hardest part became,  how do you not get bumped off course?  Especially with my history, which is  just like at the drop of a hat, people just like annoying me, so that meant  that was something I had to work on, which in large part meant, you know what, you’re going to have to let a lot of stuff go. Because everybody’s on top of everybody. You’re not the only one. You’re not on an Island. And that’s still hard. But patience is, hey  you can meditate.

You can pray. You can go outside.  You can write, you can read, you can do all these things that are constructive, that completely take you out of that situation. Or at least that stressor situation  It’s like turning the hardest part into  a learning situation. 

High point: there was a mountain biking expedition that we did, which was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun on that mountain biking trip. What that in turn taught me was, the walking that I’d been doing diligently on the treadmill, I wanted to parlay that into hiking.

So that opened a huge door. Even though the excruciating parts  our work, I get a lot out of that work.  The sweat, the toil. There’s a lot of catharsis. There’s a lot of self-discovery. Cause I need that time.  I need that break away. What that ultimately has become is the larger goal is to uh, hike the Appalachian Trail.  And that is a daunting task. It is a genuinely daunting task. And yeah, there’s a lot of fearful things, but every speed bump exists for a reason.

It’s like how bad do you really want to do this? So again with the sweat and toil and work,  it manifests itself into, what are the challenges for the trail? Like, how are you going to get this together? So I’ve given myself a timeframe, and I’ve taken walking to be training now.

So I lug a huge 40 pound backpack. And I get looks from people like, what’s it like on Mars?  You’re such an alien with all this stuff. But at the same time, I get a lot of cool stuff too. You know, there’s a lot of guys that approach me and say, why are you doing this?

What are you doing?  And then I get a lot of pushback too. That’s so stupid to do stuff like that. It’s  but I spent it, it’s like, ugh, but that’s what I wanted. That’s what I wanna do. That’s me striving for something, and what’s even cooler is to hear guys come up to me and say, you know a guy said to me the other day, that that’s the weirdest thing.

That guy is such a, dah dah dah. And  they turn around and say, but hey man, that’s that guy’s dream. Do you have a dream?  And  that’s the magic of this place. Yeah, that’s it right there. And it gets guys to think. So it’s understanding how to turn that into fuel. Good fuel.  

This is a sign that maybe you should reach out to a few guys a bit more. Cause I do get a lot of questions and they’ve become teaching moments. And they turn into talking about books, talking about their girlfriend, talking about life.  And  it turns into catharsis for them. These are guys that are new in the program that are coming to me and asking these things. It’s become a profound experience.  I’d never would have dreamt this.  Wow. The Appalachian trail.  So there’s no grandeur to it. It’s not like me celebrating it.  It’s just, that’s the way that it is.

And  it’s become large, it’s become larger than me,  which is cool. 

It all starts with saying with every fiber of my being that my relationship with God has been one where it’s two old friends coming back together.  He’s there, he knows what’s up. But he’s, he waits for me. You know what I mean?

There’s  that distance we’ve got to cover, there’s that fence we’ve got to mend. He’s patient.  He knows how everything’s going to go. And it’s, he knows it’s my journey. So there’s been  a groundswell, of it feels like genuine faith and diligence and turning it over. 

The mental health thing has been really,  it’s been huge. Let’s put it that way. I’ve known for a long time that I had mental health issues. That  I know there’s depression in my family.  I know there’s alcoholism in my family  and so on and so on. So I surrender to that and I said, listen, I need to talk to somebody.

So I met Jim Blucher,  who’s been with me, we’ve been talking for a year now and he’s been, that’s my guy.  It’s been really cool working with him. And then eventually it got to be  working with Dr. Antoine about, about things, and how things can be treated. And he’s just been a wealth of information and again, super cool guy, and it’s made a, it’s made a tremendous difference.  Are the behavioral things still there? Of course. That’s going to happen with time.  But okay. Let’s put it this way. Sitting down to dinner two, three nights ago, a friend of mine and I were talking about,

and this isn’t rocket science,  but how after a period of time without the substance. You really do know that you have to face what the core issue is. Okay. My core issue is mental health. Facing it is one thing, asking for help and doing something about it is completely different.  That’s what this year has been.

I mean, there’s been a lot of tremendous things, but that’s what this year has been is,  you have this opportunity it’s presented to you. This is a gift.   You have to take care of this. So all the barriers came… finally, this is not going to work until you surrender,  you can speak up about these things.

This is what they’re here for.  That’s what’s going on right now.  In terms of career,  so work therapy’s a really interesting concept here   I’ve done housekeeping.  I immediately went to the kitchen. I did treatment office.

And then back down to the pantry. Okay. So pantry is basically  a conduit for what goes on upstairs, to what’s getting stored downstairs, to what can be brought over  from Lenny’s.

As a matter of fact, we should change the work therapy to logistical midwife of the kitchen. It’s the walk-in, it’s the freezer. It’s now all dry storage 

tying all those things together. Okay. Being in charge, really, I’m not really in charge, but I’m the go-to guy for all of that. I’m the pantry guy. Yeah. So the future being  something that’s really interesting. Cause now I can see that as, I’ve always been deathly afraid of not doing a job that wasn’t like moving,  just sitting still.  

But the treatment office taught me that I could do that that I could handle those things like that.      So that. Helped me to discover that there was some maturity that had  developed  and responsibility, just be there, faithfully do the job that’s asked of you and move on.

 So now thinking about what would be for the future, what would be a good job?  I can’t say specifically what I know what it is, but I have a lot more faith in the ability to do be a multitude of things.  I can live with that.

And what I thought about was so there’s, there’s through hikes, which, so it starts in Georgia ends up in Maine. So  the traditional route is to go down to Georgia and hike up to Maine. Okay. So I thought  since I’m here, giving this idea a try, which is leaving here in May, going up to Maine,

and then coming back to Baltimore,  regrouping and then going down to Georgia and coming back to Baltimore. But yeah, I think that’s, it feels solid. I’m still trying it on, but  it feels solid.  Like a wise man once said, the great thing about beards is that they grow on you. 

There’s a lot of really good people here and they’re very accessible. I said that in my graduation speech all the TCS, because they’ve been in the trenches  Dave Pope, cause his door’s always open.

Vic King cause his door’s always open.  Mike Rallo,  Brian Vincer, or I can go on and on and on. Accessibility is you can approach people here and they’ll give it to you straight, and they’ll help you out as best they can. So there’s, there’s a huge debt of gratitude for that, there’s so many things I could say that we’ve talked about here. I would have never told you that three years ago.  It’s it’s it’s the village    It’s really been a tremendous help to have people around that are really good. Yeah.  

Vic: And that’s John. Thanks for listening to his story. 

Before we wrap up, I’ve got an update on Ramon, who was featured in our last podcast episode and also in the Road To Hope video that you can see at helpingupmission.org/roadtohope or our YouTube channel. Ramon just came on staff as our newest treatment coordinator and as our Hispanic outreach coordinator, strengthening our ties with the Hispanic community in Baltimore. Super excited to have him as a part of the team here at Helping Up. 

This podcast was produced by me, Vic King, with music by Blue Dot Sessions. Of course, if you haven’t subscribed, you can always do that in the podcast player of your choice.

And if you want, you can even leave a review or rating on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen that lets you rate things. Not all platforms do, but yeah. Thank you for sharing this time with us out of your day. Until next time, peace.

CEO Conference Call

During our Donor Conference Call on May 19, 2020, CEO Bob Gehman shared updates on HUM’s response to the coronavirus pandemic: 

 Topics that were discussed included:

  1. How we’re protecting the men and women we’re serving, as well as our staff serving them on the front lines of exposure. 
  2. How we’re persevering in our lifesaving and transforming programs and services in the decades-long pandemic of addiction 
  3. And the biggest challenges we face in the days, weeks and months ahead!  

Listeners were also given a chance to ask questions during the call.  

“My prayers started to change” – Demetrie’s story

“The catalyst, the breaking point, of me changing my life was me sitting on the side of a road one day and telling God that I accept this is going to be my life because you won’t answer my prayer. “

Demetrie grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Hear him describe how, in recovery, his prayers started to change from telling God what to do to asking for God’s will to be done, and how he’s found the transformation he was always looking for.

Listen and subscribe at anchor.fm/helpingup or on Youtube.


What Recovery Looks Like During COVID-19

We invited our men to share: What does recovery look like for you in this moment of COVID-19? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? What encouragement would you have to offer others?

Thank you for your prayers and your support, and may God bless you this Easter.

A Coin For Graduates

Focus on Recovery:

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A commemorative coin for HUM graduates (Nathan Yoder)

When Brian walked onto the chapel stage to graduate, I handed him a coin. He’s one of the first to receive it. Groups like AA and NA have tags and coins to commemorate sobriety milestones, and we wanted to create a coin to honor our one-year SRP graduates.

A Coin For Graduates

One stage of the coin design process (Nathan Yoder)

We commissioned artist Nathan Yoder for the design, and we couldn’t be more proud of the result. On the front, a tiny oak sprouts out of the ground atop Federal Hill, backed by the Inner Harbor sunrise. Framing the scene are 12 stars, evoking 12 months or 12 steps, and the words of Jesus, “With God all things are possible.” On the back, the sprout has grown into a mighty oak, with a banner in its branches: “One year of spiritual recovery.”

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The coin, front and back (Nathan Yoder)

This coin will be a touchstone for Brian and many graduates in the coming years. There’s a hymn about God’s faithfulness with the line, “Hither by Thy help I’ve come.” It’s our hope that these coins would spark a similar remembrance in the men – and soon women – who will carry them.

– Chaplain Vic (Focus on Recovery)

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Treatment Coordinator – and HUM grad – Shawn Colvin showing off his coin (Vic King)


To receive our monthly newsletter please contact our Philanthropy team by email at philanthropy@helpingup.org or by calling 410-675-HELP. If you would like to read other stories about the men and women we serve please visit:Recovery Stories